Background: While unifocalization techniques have improved the treatment options in patients with pulmonary atresia, ventricular septal defect (PA-VSD), and major aortopulmonary collaterals (MAPCAs), severe airflow limitation contributes to significant early postoperative morbidity and mortality. Although this has been attributed to bronchospasm, characteristically it is refractory to bronchodilators, suggesting that other mechanisms may play a role.
Methods and results: The clinical course and preoperative angiograms of patients who underwent unifocalization were reviewed. Patients who developed airflow limitation early after surgery underwent fiberoptic bronchoscopy. In addition, the anatomy of the MAPCAs was examined in 14 heart-lung blocks from patients with PA-VSD. Twenty-two procedures were performed in 16 children. Three developed marked airflow limitation early after surgery, necessitating prolonged high-pressure ventilation. Bronchoscopy demonstrated tracheobronchial epithelial necrosis in 2 and signs of tracheobronchial ischemia in the third. Two were successfully extubated after 15 and 16 days, but the third died after 57 days of ventilatory support. Review of the preoperative angiograms demonstrated an extensive peribronchial arterial supply arising from a MAPCA in 1 of the patients who developed severe airway necrosis after unifocalization. This was also obvious in a second patient, but the MAPCA was not included in the unifocalization. In 7 autopsy specimens, MAPCAs contributed to a peribronchial or peritracheal vascular network. Dissection of the distribution of these branches in 2 specimens revealed extensive intrapulmonary peribronchial anastomoses.
Conclusions: Airflow limitation early after unifocalization is related to airway ischemia resulting from interruption of the tracheobronchial blood supply during mobilization of MAPCAs.