The role of intrathoracic free flaps for chronic empyema.
BACKGROUND: The management of chronic empyema associated with a bronchopleural fistula can be a particularly challenging problem. Successful eradication may not occur without interposition of healthy vascularized tissue. Pedicled muscle flaps for coverage on the thorax have been well described. However, secondary to trauma or previous surgical procedures, a pedicle flap may not be sufficiently sized or available. Free tissue transfer is an attractive option to provide the appropriate vascularized tissue. METHODS: Six patients with chronic empyema-bronchopleural fistulae were reconstructed with 4 rectus abdominis myocutaneous and 2 gracilis muscle flaps. The choice of recipient vessels was dictated by existing local anatomy but included intercostal, thoracodorsal, thoracoacromial, azygous, and circumflex humeral vessels. One flap required interposition saphenous vein grafts for both artery and vein. RESULTS: Patient follow-up ranged from 2 to 14 years. There were no episodes of flap loss or postoperative mortality. Empyema resolution without recurrent bronchopleural fistula was achieved in all patients. CONCLUSIONS: Free tissue transfer is an excellent option for vascularized tissue interposition in patients who are not candidates for pedicled muscle transfer. Multiple potential recipient vessels provide tremendous versatility, arguing for early consideration of free tissue transfer.
Walsh, MD; Bruno, AD; Onaitis, MW; Erdmann, D; Wolfe, WG; Toloza, EM; Levin, LS
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