Sixty-Seven Consecutive Resuscitative Thoracotomies by A Single Surgeon

Scand J Surg. 2014 Jun;103(2):156-160. doi: 10.1177/1457496914529931. Epub 2014 Apr 17.


Background: Resuscitative thoracotomy is a dramatic operation performed in otherwise unsalvageable trauma patients. Analysis of its efficacy is based mostly on institutional series compiling the experience of multiple surgeons. This study aimed to report more consistent information by describing the resuscitative thoracotomy practice of a single surgeon and its evolution during more than two decades.

Methods: A retrospective review of consecutive patients who underwent resuscitative thoracotomy in July 1990 to December 2012. Demographics, mechanism of injury, signs of life, injuries, and outcomes were analyzed. Comparisons were made between penetrating and blunt trauma patients and between pre- and post-introduction of a selective resuscitative thoracotomy protocol.

Results: Sixty-seven resuscitative thoracotomies were performed. Most patients were males (84%), and mean age was 38 years. Mechanism of injury was stab wounds (54%, 36), blunt force (25%, 17), and gunshot wounds (21%, 14). Survival was 22% (8/36), 0% (0/17), and 7% (1/14), respectively. All nine survivors had signs of life upon admission, and survival in patients with signs of life on admission was 25% (8/32) in the stab wounds group and 8% (1/12) in the gunshot wounds group. Seven of the nine survivors (78%) were discharged neurologically intact. The most common injury in survivors was cardiac laceration with tamponade (6/9) and lung injury (3/9). Three survivors had a cardiac and lung injury, one had a lung hilum injury, and one had an abdominal inferior vena cava laceration. The switch to resuscitative thoracotomy protocol (2002) improved overall (31 vs 8%, p < 0.05) and penetrating trauma (45 vs 10%, p < 0.05) survival, eliminated resuscitative thoracotomy in patients presenting with no signs of life, and tended to reduce resuscitative thoracotomy utilization in blunt trauma patients.

Conclusion: This single-surgeon series supports that resuscitative thoracotomy can be lifesaving in selected penetrating trauma patients in extremis. A switch to a selective evidence-based protocol increased overall and penetrating resuscitative thoracotomy survival and limited resuscitative thoracotomy performance to patients arriving with signs of life.

Keywords: Resuscitative thoracotomy; asystole; blunt injury; penetrating injury; pulselessness.