Challenging surgical dogma in the management of proximal esophageal atresia with distal tracheoesophageal fistula: Outcomes from the Midwest Pediatric Surgery Consortium

J Pediatr Surg. 2018 Jul;53(7):1267-1272. doi: 10.1016/j.jpedsurg.2017.05.024. Epub 2017 Jun 1.


Purpose: Perioperative management of infants with esophageal atresia and tracheoesophageal fistula (EA/TEF) is frequently based on surgeon experience and dogma rather than evidence-based guidelines. This study examines whether commonly perceived important aspects of practice affect outcome in a contemporary multi-institutional cohort of patients undergoing primary repair for the most common type of esophageal atresia anomaly, proximal EA with distal TEF.

Methods: The Midwest Pediatric Surgery Consortium conducted a multicenter, retrospective study examining selected outcomes on infants diagnosed with proximal EA with distal TEF who underwent primary repair over a 5-year period (2009-2014), with a minimum 1-year follow up, across 11 centers.

Results: 292 patients with proximal EA and distal TEF who underwent primary repair were reviewed. The overall mortality was 6% and was significantly associated with the presence of congenital heart disease (OR 4.82, p=0.005). Postoperative complications occurred in 181 (62%) infants, including: anastomotic stricture requiring intervention (n=127; 43%); anastomotic leak (n=54; 18%); recurrent fistula (n=15; 5%); vocal cord paralysis/paresis (n=14; 5%); and esophageal dehiscence (n=5; 2%). Placement of a transanastomotic tube was associated with an increase in esophageal stricture formation (OR 2.2, p=0.01). Acid suppression was not associated with altered rates of stricture, leak or pneumonia (all p>0.1). Placement of interposing prosthetic material between the esophageal and tracheal suture lines was associated with an increased leak rate (OR 4.7, p<0.001), but no difference in the incidence of recurrent fistula (p=0.3). Empiric postoperative antibiotics for >24h were used in 193 patients (66%) with no difference in rates of infection, shock or death when compared to antibiotic use ≤24h (all p>0.3). Hospital volume was not associated with postoperative complication rates (p>0.08). Routine postoperative esophagram obtained on day 5 resulted in no delayed/missed anastomotic leaks or a difference in anastomotic leak rate as compared to esophagrams obtained on day 7.

Conclusion: Morbidity after primary repair of proximal EA and distal TEF patients is substantial, and many common practices do not appear to reduce complications. Specifically, this large retrospective series does not support the use of prophylactic antibiotics beyond 24h and empiric acid suppression may not prevent complications. Use of a transanastomotic tube was associated with higher rates of stricture, and interposition of prosthetic material was associated with higher leak rates. Routine postoperative esophagram can be safely obtained on day 5 resulting in earlier initiation of oral feeds.

Study type: Treatment study.

Level of evidence: III.

Keywords: Acid; Anastomotic leak; Anastomotic stricture; Complications; Esophageal atresia; Recurrent fistula; Suppression.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Anastomotic Leak / etiology
  • Antibiotic Prophylaxis
  • Digestive System Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Esophageal Atresia / complications
  • Esophageal Atresia / surgery*
  • Esophageal Stenosis / etiology
  • Female
  • Histamine H2 Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Pneumonia / etiology
  • Postoperative Complications* / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications* / prevention & control
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Trachea / surgery
  • Tracheoesophageal Fistula / complications
  • Tracheoesophageal Fistula / surgery*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vocal Cord Paralysis / etiology


  • Histamine H2 Antagonists