The use of heart-shaped pillows after heart surgery and the lack of clinical evidence for their use have been discussed in a few articles on our website.
Particularly in these:
QualiBreath sternum and thorax support compared to other devices
The intention is to educate about the patient's recovery and experience after sternotomy procedures, and how to best avoid complications.
We do not recommend getting rid of the cute, heart-shaped pillows. They are loved by patients who often keep them for years as treasured memorabilia after their surgical experience.
We do, however, want to remind patients and healthcare providers that heart pillows are just that: pillows. They should be used for what pillows do best: provide comfort and rest to the head or an arm. Relying on a pillow alone as a “sternum protection device” may create problems instead of solutions.
Perhaps an example explains this best: Imagine you are about to cough and want to hold the pillow against your chest. A cough or sneeze happens in a split second. Unless you constantly hug the pillow, you will need to make a sudden reach for it. Where is it when you need it? It may be on the bed, on a chair, or even on the floor. Making a sudden movement increases the danger of the two sternum bone halves shifting or moving against each other which may lead to irritation, infections or dehiscence. And it is questionable whether pressing a pillow in a 90° angle inwards against the freshly broken sternum bone is desirable for a healthy bone healing. (See more in this blog post called After open-heart surgery, the sternum is a fractured bone. Is it treated like one?)
Now compare this cough/sneeze situation with another imagination: You are wearing a purposely designed sternum protection device on your chest. It provides constant lateral support and it has integrated handles to grasp for reinforced chest support. When you need to cough, the device is already in place and you simply bring those handles together and get immediate pain relief in a safe manner.
Steering clear of complications after sternotomy procedures implies safeguarding every step of the patients' road to recovery and understanding their emotional experience.
The combination of a pain-relieving, comfortable and dedicated sternum protection device and a comforting pillow offer patients an optimum potential for recovery after heart surgery.
Most importantly, it may be an effective way to decrease the use of opioids which has also been discussed in another blog post. (See more in this article called Non-opioid approaches to pain management: Here are the best alternatives.)