Cardiothoracic surgery, also known as thoracic surgery, is the field of medicine involved in surgical procedures performed on the chest (thorax).
Cardiothoracic surgery can involve surgery on the lungs, esophagus, chest wall, and mediastinum. It is not to be confused with cardiac or cardiovascular surgery, which focuses on the heart and vessels.

No surgical procedure is completely risk-free. It’s important to understand that problems may occur after surgery. Decide whether the potential health benefits from an operation outweigh the possible risks.

When Might I Need Cardiothoracic Surgery?

Thoracic surgery includes lung, esophageal, and cardiac surgery. A patient may need this surgery because they have a life-threatening medical condition or minor problem such as gastroesophageal reflux disease.

They perform the following surgical procedures:

  • Surgery for lung cancer, tumors, and cysts;
  • Surgery on collapsed or infected lungs;
  • Keyhole thoracic surgery; and
  • Chest-wall deformities.

A lung cancer operation that offers a high likelihood of success may be worth the risk of having a major complication during or after the surgery. Similarly, although open heart surgery can be problematic, the chance of living a longer and healthier life may outweigh the risk of serious complications.

Can I Be Injured During Cardiothoracic Surgery?

Yes. Cardiothoracic surgery is highly invasive. Cardiothoracic surgeons use microsurgical instruments such as scissors, needle holders, forceps, and instruments and retractors for invasive surgery. Because these types of surgery are generally considered dangerous and invasive, personal injuries can occur.

Surgical complications are broadly defined as any problematic issue that occurs during or after an operation. Although surgeons and hospitals focus on patient safety, some complications cannot be prevented. Complications can range from minor and easily treated problems to extremely serious and life-threatening postoperative conditions. Though rare, serious complications can happen after heart and lung surgery.

Those complications include:

  • Death
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Internal bleeding
  • Major infections
  • Blood Clots: Clots may form in and around the heart or travel through the bloodstream.
  • Stroke: Strokes are often caused by clots that form in the blood after surgery
  • Blood Loss: In some cases, blood transfusions may be necessary.
  • Emergency Surgery: If a problem is discovered after surgery, emergency surgery may be necessary to repair any problems.
  • Cardiac Tamponade (Pericardial Tamponade): Cardigan tamponade is a life-threatening condition where the pericardium (the sac surrounding the heart) fills with blood. This makes it difficult or impossible for the heart to fully function.
  • Separation of the Breastbone During Healing: Separation of the sternum may slow the healing process of the bone. Sternal precautions help prevent separation of the breastbone as well as excessive pulling on the surgical incision.

Less serious complications may include difficulty urinating, minor heart rhythm irregularities, or minor infections that can be treated with antibiotics. Complications after surgery have the potential to prolong hospital stays and extend the time required for a full recovery.

What are the Most Common Cardiothoracic Surgical Errors?

The most common cardiothoracic surgery errors include:

  • Perforating an organ, tissue, or nerve during surgery;
  • Carelessness;
  • Surgeon’s poor judgment;
  • Leaving surgical equipment inside the body; or
  • Failure to adequately manage postoperative medical care.

When you face the possibility of surgery, your surgeon or other health care providers will explain your treatment options. These include what might happen if you choose not to have an operation, the risks and benefits of the proposed surgical procedure, and their recommendations. This process is known as “informed consent.”

Informed consent implies a partnership with your surgeon that indicates you understand your options and that you have chosen them with the understanding that things may not go as planned. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or request explanations so that you can be comfortable with your decisions.

Complications during cardiothoracic surgery can occur. When they do, it’s important that you and your family understand the process.

Can I Sue for My Injury During Cardiothoracic Surgery?

Yes. Medical malpractice is the legal cause of action when a surgeon negligently performs an operation. It can also occur when a medical professional involved with the surgery negligently performed their task.

It is impossible for surgeons to describe every possible complication during a preoperative visit. Research has shown that many patients don’t remember or don’t understand many details discussed during preoperative visits with surgeons. Oftentimes, patients are nervous and unfamiliar with the technical aspects of surgery. It is the job of nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to explain things again or in different ways.

A large majority of surgical complications do not occur because your surgeon or surgical team made a mistake or did something wrong. Surgical complications may happen after operations that were expertly performed. Your chance of experiencing a surgical complication usually depends on your condition going into the operating room. For instance, the risk of complications increases:

  • With advanced age
  • If the operation is an emergency
  • If you have a chronic medical condition like diabetes, kidney failure, or lung disease

Extensive research and experience with millions of patients allows heart surgeons to predict the risk of many types of complications after heart surgery. These predictions are the result of a complex statistical analysis by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) National Database, which contains more than 7 million procedure records.

The STS Risk Calculator allows users to input information about a patient, such as type of heart disease, age, heart function, and other medical conditions. Using data from the STS National Database, the calculator estimates the risk of death or complications with your heart surgery. It is important to understand that the STS risk scores are the result of complex statistical calculations that are not necessarily exact for all patients. STS risk scores offer a ballpark estimate of your surgical risk.

When a surgical complication occurs, it is natural to wonder, “Why me?” or “What happened?”. This is especially true if your problem wasn’t one of the common complications mentioned by your surgeon or their staff before your operation. Make sure to ask specific questions about your circumstances, including the next treatment steps and the potential for a full recovery.

It is important to know that your surgeon and their team are highly trained to treat most complications in and out of the operating room. Consultants, such as intensive care, kidney, or infectious disease specialists might be called to assist. Most surgical complications can be successfully treated.

How Do I Prove Medical Malpractice?

To prevail in a medical malpractice claim, a plaintiff must prove the following:

  • The surgeon or medical professional had a duty to provide a standard of care to the plaintiff;
  • The surgeon or medical professional breached that duty;
  • The surgeon or medical professional was the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury; and
  • The plaintiff suffered damages as a result.

Should I Seek Legal Counsel About My Cardiothoracic Surgery Injury?

Medical malpractice lawsuits can be complicated. In that regard, it is in your best interest to contact an attorney if you believe you have suffered injuries from your cardiothoracic surgery as a result of medical malpractice.

Contact a personal injury lawyer about your cardiothoracic surgery injury immediately. Your lawyer will explain your legal rights and file a lawsuit on your behalf. They may also negotiate a fair settlement with the defendant to avoid trial.