Objective: We evaluated the outcome of different surgical techniques for postintubation tracheoesophageal fistula.
Methods: Thirty-two consecutive patients aged 51 +/- 23 years had tracheoesophageal fistulas resulting from a median of 30 days of mechanical ventilation via endotracheal (n = 12) or tracheostomy (n = 20) tubes. Tracheoesophageal fistulas were 2.5 +/- 1.2 cm long and were associated with a tracheal (n = 10) or subglottic (n = 3) stenosis in 13 patients.
Results: All but 3 patients were weaned from respirators before repair. All operations were done through cervical incisions and included direct division and closure (n = 9), esophageal diversion (n = 3), muscle interposition (n = 6), or, more recently, tracheal or laryngotracheal resection and anastomosis with primary esophageal closure (n = 14). Nine thyrohyoid and two supralaryngeal releases reduced anastomotic tension. Twenty-three patients (74%) were extubated after the operation (n = 16) or within 24 hours (n = 7), and 7 required a temporary tracheotomy tube. One postoperative death (3%) was associated with recurrent tracheoesophageal fistula. Seven complications (22%) included recurrent tracheoesophageal fistula (n = 1), delayed tracheal stenosis (n = 2), dysphagia (n = 2), and recurrent nerve palsy (n = 2). Complications necessitated reoperation (n = 1), dilation (n = 2), definitive tracheostomy (n = 1), Montgomery T tubes (n = 1), and Teflon injection of the vocal cords (n = 1). Twenty-nine patients (93%) had excellent (n = 24) or good (n = 5) anatomic and functional long-term results. Complications have been less common (7% vs 38%) and long-term results better (93% vs 65%) recently with tracheal or laryngotracheal resection and anastomosis with primary esophageal closure as compared with previous procedures.
Conclusions: Postintubation tracheoesophageal fistula is usually best treated with tracheal or laryngotracheal resection and anastomosis with primary esophageal closure even in the absence of tracheal damage.