Children's Hospital Colorado
Heart institute
Heart institute

What to Expect for Your Child's Cardiac Catheterization

A video for parents and kids

Learn what to expect if your child is having a heart catheterization procedure at Children's Hospital Colorado. A former patient explains where to go, who you'll meet, about the procedure/recovery, and going home.

Take a Cath Lab preparation tour

Knowing what to expect can help kids and parents feel calmer and more relaxed on the day of a cardiac catheterization (commonly called a heart cath). Here, we offer pre-procedure tours led by Child Life Specialists, who are specially trained to support children through medical procedures. These specialists will talk with your child about the "why's" and the "what's" of the Cath Lab, making every effort to address and soothe whatever fears your child may have.

The tour takes about one hour. During that time, you will see a Heart Cath Lab room, learn your way around the hospital and talk about what happens on the day of your child’s procedure.

Make a reservation for the tour

We offer tours of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab on Fridays between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Please give two tour dates and times that will work for you, and we will contact you within a few days to confirm. Pre-procedure tours are only available at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora for patients age 3 and older.

Please call 720-777-2530 to make a reservation, and provide the following information:

  • Your name
  • Child's name
  • Child's age
  • Child's date of birth
  • Type of cardiac procedure
  • Date of cardiac procedure
  • Two date and time options for the tour
  • Number of people who will attend the Cath Lab tour (please limit to immediate family members)
  • A phone number where you can be reached during business hours

Cath Lab tour tips and cancellations

  • Arrive a few minutes early, as we start the tours promptly.
  • Schedule your Heart Cath Lab tour as soon as possible to ensure the availability of your preferred date.
  • Remember that siblings are not allowed on tours or in the hospital during visitor restriction periods like flu season.

We may need to cancel tours due to holiday activity and or department scheduling needs. If we need to cancel your tour, we will contact you with available options.

If you need to cancel your tour, please do so as soon as possible by calling 720-777-2530.

Pre-procedure instructions for diagnostic and interventional cardiac catheterization procedures

The person who schedules your child's heart cath will provide specific instructions for when to stop eating and drinking prior to the procedure. As a reminder:

  • 8 hours prior: children should not eat any solid food, including candy and gum.
  • 6 hours prior: infants may have milk, formula or fortified breast milk until this point.
  • 4 hours prior: infants may have breast milk until this point.
  • 2 hours prior: all patients may have clear fluids, such as water, until this point.

It is crucial to follow these instructions. If your child eats or drinks beyond these cut-off times, it puts his safety at risk and could delay or cancel the procedure. If your child is ill, has a fever, or has been exposed to a contagious disease, such as chicken pox, please notify your cardiologist's office or the scheduling office at 720-777-8696.

What to expect on the day of the cardiac catheterization

This is a big day for your child, and he needs your full attention. We recommend that you not bring other children to the hospital with you; if other children do come with you, they will need another adult with them at all times.

Before the cardiac catheterization

The Cardiac Cath Lab team will see your child before the procedure, and a member of the pediatric cardiology team will explain all of the planned tests and catheterization procedures to you. Some of the tests will include blood and urine tests, electrocardiograms (EKG), chest X-rays and an echocardiogram (ECHO). Feel free to ask questions at any time.

Once your child is in the Cardiac Cath Lab, he will be moved onto the special bed where the catheterization will take place. The Cardiac Cath Lab nurses will cover your child with warm blankets, start an IV, and hook up the devices to monitor blood pressure, oxygen saturation, heart rate, etc. The IV will be used to deliver fluids and medicine to make your child sleepy and relaxed during the catheterization. Your child's cardiologist and/or anesthesiologist will discuss the best way to make to make sure your child is comfortable (about 90% of kids will be asleep and closely monitored by our cardiac anesthesiologist during the procedure).

A sterile drape will cover your child's entire body for the cardiologist to perform the procedure. The area where the catheter will be inserted (usually in the groin area) is cleaned with an antiseptic and numbed with medicine. The catheter is then inserted into the vein and/or artery; a catheter is a small hollow tube that is like IV tubing. The cardiologist will use X-ray cameras to guide the catheter to the areas of the heart that he wants to see or repair.

During the cardiac catheterization

You may stay with your child in the Cath Lab before the procedure begins while he undergoes anesthesia. Once your child is under anesthesia, someone will escort you to the waiting room. You can wait here or visit other areas of the hospital, such as the cafeteria and gift shop.

A nurse will give you a pager that will alert you when there are status updates on your child's procedure. If the pager beeps, go to the waiting room and answer the phone. Once the procedure is finished, please wait to speak with the cardiologist for a full report. Pagers do not work outside the hospital.

After the cardiac catheterization

After a heart catheterization procedure, your child will be moved to a recovery area to wake up. Once your child is awake, the Cardiac Cath Lab nurse will make sure that vital signs are stable and that your child is taking fluids well. Most children are able to go home the day of the test, but some will need to stay overnight. All kids need to stay still for several hours after the test to ensure that bleeding to the groin or the area where the tube was inserted has stopped. After reviewing the exam and test results, your child's cardiologist will talk with you about treatment and the results of a heart catheterization.

When your family leaves Children's Colorado, a nurse will give you detailed instructions so your child can recover at home. Please follow these instructions carefully. A few days after your discharge, someone from The Heart Institute will call to check in and schedule a follow-up visit.