Background: Respiratory insufficiency in children after cardiothoracic surgery delays weaning from the ventilator and prolongs intensive care unit stay. There is little consensus as to the indications for tracheostomy and its safety in this population.
Methods: We reviewed our institutional experience in 37 consecutive infants and children (median age, 8.6 months; weight, 7.2 kg) requiring a tracheostomy after cardiothoracic surgery between January 1998 and December 2001, with follow-up to June 2003.
Results: Twenty-four children underwent tracheostomy after corrective (n = 15) or palliative (n = 9) surgery for congenital heart disease, 8 had undergone thoracic transplantation, and 5 had undergone thoracic surgery. Median duration of pretracheostomy ventilation was 30 days, and median total duration of ventilation was 73 days. Tracheostomy was performed earlier in patients undergoing transplantation (median of 20 days postoperatively), with a duration of ventilation of 34 days. No patient experienced mediastinitis, and a wound infection in 1 child was the only identified complication. Twenty-two children survived to hospital discharge, of whom 15 have since been decannulated; 6 still have a tracheostomy in situ and 1 has been lost to follow-up. A number of preoperative and postoperative factors were identified in this cohort. These were preoperative respiratory insufficiency, a history of neonatal ventilation, the need for cardiac reoperations, diaphragmatic paralysis, tracheobronchomalacia, neurological comorbidity, and associated chromosomal abnormalities.
Conclusion: Tracheostomy can be performed safely and without increased risk of complications in infants and children early after cardiothoracic surgery. The presence of identifiable factors in patients in whom weaning has been unsuccessful should alert clinicians to early consideration of tracheostomy.