Fontan procedure: Heart repair from the best

If your child has a heart condition in which one of the ventricles (pumping chambers) of the heart is hypoplastic, or under-developed, the Fontan procedure might be recommended. This is often the third surgery needed if your child has a hypoplastic heart ventricle. The experts at UW Health are among the best in the nation for treating a range of heart conditions present at birth.


Helping your child live healthier

Certain heart conditions, such as hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), require surgery for treatment. The expert surgeons at UW Health offer the Fontan heart procedure to patients. This open-heart procedure helps the heart pump oxygen-rich blood to the body.

What is the Fontan procedure?

The Fontan procedure is an operation that allows blood to flow to the lungs without passing through a ventricle. Our surgeons at the UW Health Kids’ Fontan Clinic use the Fontan procedure to treat children born with a ventricle, or chamber, in the heart that is too small. The Fontan procedure helps improve bloodflow.

Depending on their heart condition, your child may need additional surgeries before undergoing the Fontan procedure. These may include the Norwood procedure and Glenn procedure.

What to expect

Expert care every step of the way

Open-heart surgery can feel overwhelming and scary, but at UW Health, you’re never alone. Our expert and compassionate care teams are here to help you and your child during and after surgery.

How does the Fontan procedure work?

During the Fontan procedure, surgeons disconnect the inferior vena cava (the largest vein in the body) from your child’s heart. Using a tube, your child’s surgeon will connect the inferior vena cava to the pulmonary artery. The pulmonary artery flows to the lungs, which helps blood get oxygen first before being pumped back to the body.

What to expect after the procedure

Your child will stay at the hospital for one or two weeks after their open-heart surgery. During this time, they’ll receive round-the-clock care and monitoring. We’ll also help you prepare to care for your child after they leave the hospital. This includes:

  • Giving your child medications

  • Attending all doctor visits

  • Watching for signs of blueness on lips and nails

We’ll also help understand the signs of an emergency, such as:

  • Not eating

  • Vomiting

  • Changes in breathing, including breathing too fast or struggling to breathe

  • Irritability

If you notice any of these signs, call your child’s doctor immediately.

After leaving the hospital, a cardiologist will need to monitor your child’s heart during regular follow-up visits.

Care as your child grows

The Fontan clinic at American Family Children’s Hospital serves children and teenagers who have had the Fontan operation. In this clinic, you will see several specialists. Our goal is coordinated care and communication, both to reduce the number of clinic appointments for you and to provide a unified treatment plan that best meets your child’s and family’s needs. Most patients will be seen about one year after their Fontan operation, then about every 2-3 years after that. In between these appointments, your child will continue to see their primary cardiologist and primary care provider.

Meet our team

Supportive care for your child

Our team is here to support your child throughout their treatment journey. While an expert heart surgeon performs your child’s procedure, your child’s care team includes a range of specialists to support them during and after treatment, including:

  • Cardiologists

  • Pulmonologists

  • Heptaologists

  • Radiologists

  • Neuropsychologists

  • Surgeons

  • Registered nurses (RNs)

  • Exercise physiologists

  • Social workers

  • School liaisons

Pediatric Cardiovascular Medicine
Cardiothoracic surgery
Joelle Devries and her mom
Kids hearts
Joelle’s heart is aglow, despite complex defect at birth

When she was born with serious heart complications, Joelle faced significant challenges in her early days. Thanks to the expert care at American Family Children's Hospital, she is now an energetic kid enjoying life on the farm.


Care in a space designed for your child

Your child will receive care at American Family Children's Hospital in Madison, Wis.


Find support and information when you need it

In addition to the support from your child’s care team at UW Health, it can also be helpful to find additional support from groups for parents of children with heart conditions. Here are a few resources to help: