Background: There is incomplete knowledge regarding the outcome of children who suffer a cardiac arrest after blunt trauma. We sought to determine mechanisms of injury, mortality, and rate of organ donation in this population of children.
Methods: Since 1984, all traumatically injured children in San Diego County, California, have been treated at San Diego Children's Hospital. This review encompasses 10,979 pediatric trauma patients evaluated from August 1, 1984 through September 30, 1996. All patients who did not meet the following two criteria were eliminated from the review: 1) a mechanism of blunt trauma, and 2) cardiopulmonary resuscitation performed by a trained medical provider prior to arriving or on arrival to the hospital. A chart review of this set of patients was undertaken to determine mechanism of injury, severity of injury, mortality, and rate of organ donation.
Results: In this large metropolitan county, 65 children suffered cardiac arrest following blunt trauma. Accidents involving motor vehicles were the mechanisms responsible for 80% of these injuries. The average Injury Severity Score was 50.3. Mortality was largely related to severe head injury as manifested by a mean Abbreviated Injury Score for head and neck equal to 5.9. All but one of these patients died despite resuscitation. Ninety-four percent of these children died within the first 24 hours of injury. The single survivor was discharged in a vegetative state. Solid organs were obtained from 9% of the patients.
Conclusion: The outcome from blunt cardiac arrest in children is rapidly and nearly uniformly fatal despite resuscitation. Because severe head injuries resulting in brain death are the leading cause of mortality, a significant percentage of organ donations are obtained from these patients.