Background: We evaluated a technique of video-assisted thoracoscopic (VAT) decortication of the visceral cortex to reexpand entrapped lung in cases of chronic postpneumonic pleural empyema.
Methods: A prospective cohort study of 48 consecutive patients with multiloculated postpneumonic pleural empyema in whom visceral pleural decortication was required was studied. The effect of VAT decortication on perioperative outcome and factors affecting its success were assessed.
Results: Before the introduction of VAT decortication 12 patients were treated by thoracotomy (group T). In the subsequent 36 patients VAT decortication was attempted with success in 21 (group VS) but lung expansion was not observed in 15 patients (group VF) who required thoracotomy. There was no difference in the age or sex distribution of the 3 groups. Operating time was significantly longer in group T than group VS, mean difference 30.3 minutes (p = 0.001) and postoperative hospital stay was longer in group T than group VS, mean difference 2.9 days (p = 0.004). The success of VAT decortication was not related to either the delay between onset of symptoms or hospital admission and surgery; indeed the operating time decreased with increasing preoperative delay. However, success was related to increasing operative experience (p = 0.001).
Conclusions: VAT decortication is a feasible new technique to achieve lung reexpansion in chronic postpneumonic pleural empyema and has perioperative benefits over thoracotomy.