Background/purpose: Peritoneal drainage is a temporizing procedure for infants with extremely low birth weight (ELBW) who have perforated necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). "Salvage" laparotomy is advocated when patients worsen after drainage. Some patients have survived with intact gastrointestinal functional after drainage alone. The purpose of this study is to determine if these salvage laparotomies are beneficial.
Methods: The authors reviewed the records of ELBW infants treated at Stanford University with perforated NEC from 1993 through 1998. Data collected included demographic makeup, type of operation, survival rate, postoperative complications, length of stay (LOS), and cost.
Results: The authors treated 26 patients, 9 with laparotomy and 17 with peritoneal drainage. The peritoneal drainage group had lower birth weight and more comorbid conditions. Survival rate was similar between laparotomy and drainage: 55.6% versus 41.2%. Four patients in the drainage group underwent salvage laparotomy for perceived clinical deterioration. All of these patients died. The clinical status of patients who had salvage laparotomy and died was similar to those who did not and lived. Seven of 13 patients treated with drainage followed only by supportive care and antibiotics survived. Cost and LOS for patients undergoing salvage laparotomy were much greater than for nonsurviving patients undergoing only peritoneal drainage: 84 +/- 20 days and $660,000 compared with 34 +/- 11 days and $306,000.
Conclusions: Both primary peritoneal drainage and laparotomy should be considered primary therapy for perforated NEC. Patients undergoing peritoneal drainage typically experience clinical deterioration after operation. In this limited experience, salvage laparotomy did not appear beneficial.