BACKGROUND: Hemorrhage from extremity wounds is a leading cause of potentially preventable death during modern combat operations. Optimal management involves rapid hemostasis and reversal of metabolic derangements utilizing damage control principles. The traditional practice of damage control surgery favors a life over limb approach and discourages elaborate, prolonged vascular reconstructions. We hypothesized that limb preservation could be successful when the damage control approach combines advanced resuscitative strategies and modern vascular techniques. METHODS: Trauma Registry records at a Combat Support Hospital from April to June 2006 were retrospectively reviewed. Patients with life-threatening hemorrhage (defined as >4 units of packed red blood cells) who underwent simultaneous revascularization for a pulseless extremity were included. Data collection included the initial physiologic parameters in the emergency department (ED), total and 24-hour blood product requirements, and admission physiology and laboratory values in the intensive care unit (ICU). Outcome measures were survival, graft patency, and amputation rate at 7 days. RESULTS: Sixteen patients underwent 20 vascular reconstructions for upper (3) or lower extremity (17) wounds. Patients were hypotensive (blood pressure 105/60 +/- 29/18), acidotic (pH 7.27 +/- 0.1; BD -7.50 +/- 5.5), and coagulopathic (international normalized ratio 1.3 +/- 0.4) on arrival to the ED and essentially normal upon admission to the ICU, 4 hours later. Vein grafts (19/20, 95%) were used preferentially. Prosthetic grafts (1), shunting and delayed repair (4) or amputation (1) were infrequent. Heparin was not used or limited to a half dose (5/20, 25%). Tourniquets (12/16, 75%) and fasciotomies (13/16, 81%) were routine. Most (75%) received recombinant factor VIIa in the ED and in the operating room. All survived with normalized physiology on arrival in the ICU. Twenty-four-hour crystalloid use averaged 7.1 +/- 3.2 L, whereas packed red blood cells averaged 23 +/- 18 units, and 88% were massively transfused. Median operative time was 4.5 hours (range, 1.7-8.4 hours). CONCLUSIONS: Aggressive damage control resuscitation maneuvers in critically injured casualties successfully permitted prolonged, complex extremity revascularization with excellent early limb salvage and graft patency. Recombinant VIIa and liberal resuscitation with fresh whole blood, plasma, platelets and cryoprecipitate, while minimizing crystalloid, allowed limb salvage and did not result in early graft failures.
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