Background: The use of prosthetic grafts for reconstruction of military vascular trauma has been consistently discouraged. In the current conflict, however, the signature wound involves multiple extremities with significant loss of soft tissue and potential autogenous venous conduits. We reviewed the experience with the use of prosthetic grafts for the treatment of vascular injuries sustained during recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Methods: Trauma registry records with combat-related vascular injuries repaired using prosthetic grafts were retrospectively reviewed from March 2003 to April 2006. Data collected included age, gender, mechanism of injury, vessel injured, conduit, graft patency, complications, including amputation and eventual outcome of repair.
Results: Prosthetic grafts were placed in 14 of 95 (15%) patients undergoing extremity bypass for vascular injuries. Patients were men with an average age of 25 years (range, 19-39 years). All prosthetic grafts in this series were made of polytetrafluoroethylene. Mechanism of injury included blast (n = 6), gunshot wounds (n = 6), and blunt trauma (n = 2), resulting in prosthetic repair of injuries to the superficial femoral (n = 8), brachial (n = 3), common carotid (n = 1), subclavian (n = 1), and axillary (n = 1) arteries. Mean evacuation time from injury to stateside arrival was 7 days (range, 3-9 days). Twelve grafts were placed initially at the time of injury, and two after vein graft blow out with secondary hemorrhage. The mean follow-up period was 427 days (range, 49-1,285 days). Seventy-nine percent of prosthetic grafts stayed patent in the short term, allowing patient stabilization, transport to a stateside facility, and elective revascularization with the remaining autologous vein graft. Three prosthetic grafts were replaced urgently for thrombosis. The remaining seven grafts were replaced electively for severe stenosis (3) or exposure (4) with presumed infection. There were no prosthetic graft blow outs or deaths in this series. No patients required amputation because of prosthetic graft failure. Three (21%) patients went on to have elective lower extremity amputation, despite patent grafts for nonsalvagable limbs.
Conclusions: When managing patients with multiple extremity trauma and limited noninjured autogenous venous conduits, emergent use of prosthetic grafts may provide an effective limb salvage strategy. Despite being placed in multisystem trauma patients with large contaminated soft tissue wounds, emergent revascularization with polytetrafluoroethylene allowed patient stabilization, transport to a higher echelon of care, and elective revascularization with remaining limited autologous vein.