But a new surgical technique may one day mean these patients are up and about in days instead of weeks.
When Chuck Hoette toured Alaska, it wasn't just the view that took his breath away.
He said, "I had trouble like taking three or four steps, and losing my breath."
Tests revealed chuck had three blocked heart arteries.
But he 'bypassed' traditional surgery in favor of something called TECAB offered at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Doctor Sudhir Srivastava said, "TECAB or totally endoscopic coronary artery bypass, which is done completely in a closed chest manner."
A few small incisions in the torso provide access for robotically-guided instruments.
"These tips of these instruments, they have human wrist-like motion and so as the surgeon moves the hand, that motion is exactly transmitted," said Doctor Srivastava.
The surgery is done on a beating heart.
And for long-lasting success, a chest artery is used instead of leg veins.
Doctor Srivastava also said, "about 85% of them are open at the end of fifteen to twenty years, and many of them, of course, much longer."
The most dramatic difference is recovery time.
Open heart patients require months of rest and rehab, while TECAB patients are back in action in a week.
Doctor Valluvan Jeevanandam said, "the recovery is practically immediate. Patients go home just with some tylenol for pain."
It's something Chuck feels pretty good about, too.
He added, "I was very pleasantly surprised at how quickly the recovery has been from this procedure."
A visible benefit of a nearly invisible bypass surgery.
Though currently limited in availability, the doctor is actively teaching other heart surgeons how to do this less-invasive heart bypass.