The cardiac surgery performed from 1991 to 1994 in a unit dedicated specifically for grown-up congenital heart (GUCH) patients was reviewed to determine the frequency of various procedures, incidence of first and reoperations, early mortality, and its determinants. The 295 patients, aged 16 to 77 years (31 +/- 13), had 307 operations. First operations (n = 128, 42%) were most commonly for closure of atrial septal defect (n = 40), aortic valve replacement (n = 31) or repair of aortic coarctation (n = 14). Reoperations were more frequent (n = 179, 58%) and divided among first corrective repair (n = 49), reoperation after corrective repair (n = 115), and further palliation (n = 15). First corrective surgery was mainly for aortic valve disease (n = 17), Fallot (n = 7), and lesions needing a Fontan procedure (n = 5). Reoperations after corrective repair were needed for aortic valve disease (n = 43), right-sided conduit (n = 30), or recoarctation (n = 11). Early mortality was influenced by presence of central cyanosis (9 of 49, 18% in cyanotic patients; 12 of 258, 5% in acyanotic; p <0.001), increased number of previous operations (0 = 4%, 1 = 7%, 2 = 11%, >2 = 13%; p = 0.003), and increasing age of patients. Cyanotic patients had more serious postoperative complications: pleural and pericardial effusions, severe bleeding, renal insufficiency, and sepsis, and their hospital stay was longer compared with acyanotic patients (20 +/- 17 vs 11 +/- 8 days; p <0.001). In GUCH patients, reoperations cause the largest demand on cardiac surgical services. Increased survival of patients with complex cardiovascular malformations brings difficult challenges not only to cardiologists but also to cardiovascular surgeons. There is a need to provide continued highly specialized care. Resources, patients, and funding should be concentrated in a few designated centers.