Emergency thoracotomy as a rescue treatment for trauma patients in Iceland

Injury. 2013 Sep;44(9):1186-90. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2012.05.005. Epub 2012 May 24.


Objective: Emergency thoracotomy (ET) can be life-saving in highly selected trauma patients, especially after penetrating chest trauma. There is little information on the outcome of ET in European trauma centres. Here we report our experience in Iceland.

Material and methods: This was a retrospective analysis of all patients who underwent ET in Iceland between 2005 and 2010. Patient demographics, mechanism, and location of major injury (LOMI) were registered, together with signs of life (SOL), the need for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and transfusions. Based on physiological status from injury at admission, the severity score (ISS), revised trauma score (RTS), and probability of survival (PS) were calculated.

Results: Of nine ET patients (all males, median age 36years, range 20-76) there were five long-term survivors. All but one made a good recovery. There were five blunt traumas (3 survivors) and four penetrating injuries (2 survivors). The most frequent LOMI was isolated thoracic injury (n=6), but three patients had multiple trauma. Thoracotomy was performed in five patients, sternotomy in two, and two underwent both procedures. One patient was operated in the ambulance and the others were operated after arrival. Median ISS and NISS were 29 (range 16-54) and 50 (range 25-75), respectively. Median RTS was 7 (range 0-8) with estimated PS of 85% (range 1-96%). Median blood loss was 10L (range 0.9-55). A median of 23 units of packed red blood cells were transfused (range 0-112). For four patients, CPR was required prior to transport; two others required CPR in the emergency room. Three patients never had SOL and all of them died.

Conclusion: ET is used infrequently in Iceland and the number of patients was small. More than half of them survived the procedure. This is especially encouraging considering how severely injured the patients were.

Keywords: Blunt; Chest; Emergency thoracotomy; Outcome; Penetrating; Resuscitation; Trauma.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Emergency Medicine / methods*
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia, Brain
  • Iceland / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Resuscitation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thoracotomy*
  • Trauma Centers
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / mortality
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / surgery
  • Wounds, Penetrating / mortality
  • Wounds, Penetrating / surgery
  • Young Adult