If you or someone you love has gone under the knife to experience the mother of all surgeries--the coronary bypass, then here's a guide to healing and recovery

You may have heard it discussed often--the lifesaving heart surgery that everyone dreads having, but which restores health and the hope of longevity. The operation known in medical parlance as the coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) was first performed over fifty years ago--on May 2, 1960 in the United States. Since then, the procedure has become fairly commonplace in most countries across the world and increasingly successful. Healing and recovery can be enhanced after a bypass, provided you know exactly what it involves and how to go about it.

Coronary Bypass-Hearty facts: The heart is made of muscular tissue. It's one of nature's most miraculous pumps, circulating nourishing, oxygen rich blood to every corner of your body and removing the impurities. It works tirelessly, beats 72 times every minute, pumping as much as 7,200 litres of blood in a single day!

But what happens when one or more of the arteries leading to the heart are partially blocked? The blood flow will slow to a trickle. Much like turning on your garden hose and just as the water gushes out, stepping on it and creating an obstruction. As a result, the heart will not receive enough oxygenated blood and you will experience pain and discomfort, leading to a condition called angina or simply put, chest pain. Angina is often a wake-up call, indicating that all is not well. However, if you ignore it, over time, the arteries that lead to the heart can get completely blocked by a blood clot or plaque build-up, leading to a full-fledged heart attack.

A bypass surgery involves restoring the blood flow to your heart by creating another pathway, rerouting blood around the obstructed part of the artery. This is done by using a portion of a blood vessel taken from another part of the body (usually the legs, arm, chest or abdomen) and surgically attaching it across the severely narrowed or blocked artery, thereby creating a bridge for free blood flow to the heart and 'bypassing' the blockage. As many as four arteries can be bypassed in a single operation.

Caring for scar tissue: Life after bypass or cardiac surgery needn't be complicated. There are certain precautions that you must take to hasten healing. "Wound care is important," says Dr Pratiksha G Gandhi, preventive cardiologist and Chairperson of the IPC Heart Care Centre in Mumbai. "Hygiene, wound dressing and periodic check-ups with your surgeon post surgery are very important aspects to healing. And since the breast bone is stitched after the procedure, a belt on the chest for support is required. Sometimes on the scar, there can be an abnormal growth known as keliod. If the scar tissue grows in excess, then a skin specialist should be consulted without delay."

Cardiac rehabilitation: Today, post cardiac rehabilitation programs are designed to help the patient reclaim their health and the lives. "For maintaining the benefits of the bypass surgery, changing your lifestyle is essential," explains Dr Pratiksha Gandhi. The IPC heart centre runs rehabilitation programs, encouraging patients to alter their lifestyle, treating their surgery as the ultimate wake-up call. "If you're also diabetic, monitoring blood sugar and maintaining it is critical. Planning a low fat vegetarian diet and stopping smoking, alcohol and tobacco intake is the first step," says Dr Pratiksha. Patients are encouraged mild to moderate exercise. "An exercise plan is customized in accordance to the nature of the heart disease, taking into consideration a patient's age, recovery post-surgery and associated ailments (such as diabetes). The goal is to help patients achieve optimal exercise levels and lead a normal life so that the activities of daily living do not further precipitate heart problems."

Managing pain with yoga: The fear of pain from another attack can be very real psychological issue for a bypass patient. "After bypass, blood thinners are prescribed by doctors to prevent further heart attacks," says Dr Pratiksha who is also a certified yoga instructor. "Excessive fear will only aggravate the disease by increasing your heart rate. There are quite a few asanas and pranayams which will help immensely. The Shavasan asna is highly recommended as it relaxes the body and mind, helping patients develop a positive outlook. The Yastikasana involves the stretching of hands and legs which improves circulation to the heart. Abdominal breathing, alternate nostril breathing, equal breathing are techniques that will help improve oxygenation of blood, enhancing healing and increasing the efficiency of heart. However pranayam, (Holding your breath) should be avoided as it can be counter productive, placing strain on the heart."

Timely medication and frequent check-ups are critical to your health and vitality at this stage. Remember, you have been given a new lease of life after coronary bypass. Celebrate and cherish it by learning to heal your heart.