Background: Medical operations on the International Space Station will emphasize the stabilization and transport of critically injured personnel and so will need to be capable of advanced trauma life support (ATLS).
Methods: We evaluated the ATLS invasive procedures in the microgravity environment of parabolic flight using a porcine animal model. Included in the procedures evaluated were artificial ventilation, intravenous infusion, laceration closure, tracheostomy, Foley catheter drainage, chest tube insertion, peritoneal lavage, and the use of telemedicine methods for procedural direction.
Results: Artificial ventilation was performed and appeared to be unaltered from the 1-G environment. Intravenous infusion, laceration closure, percutaneous dilational tracheostomy, and Foley catheter drainage were achieved without difficulty. Chest tube insertion and drainage were performed with no more difficulty than in the 1-G environment due to the ability to restrain patient, operator and supplies. A Heimlich valve and Sorenson drainage system were both used to provide for chest tube drainage collection with minimal equipment, without the risk of atmospheric contamination, and with the capability to auto-transfuse blood drained from a hemothorax. The use of telemedicine in chest tube insertion was demonstrated to be useful and feasible. Peritoneal lavage using a percutaneous technique, although requiring less training to perform, was found to be dangerous in weightlessness due to the additional pressure of the bowel on the anterior abdominal wall creating a high risk of bowel perforation.
Conclusions: The performance of ATLS procedures in microgravity appears to be feasible with the exception of diagnostic peritoneal lavage. Minor modifications to equipment and techniques are required in microgravity to effect surgical drainage in the presence of altered fluid dynamics, to prevent atmospheric contamination, and to provide for the restraint requirements. A parabolic simulation system was developed for equipment and procedure verification, physiological research, and possible crew medical officer training in the future.