Military pre-hospital thoracotomy

Military doctors in Afghanistan reviewed their experience of thoracotomy done within 24 hours of admission to their hospital. The ballistic nature of thoracic penetrating trauma (mainly Afghan civilians without body armour) differs from the typical knife-wound related injury seen in survivors of thoracotomy reported in the pre-hospital literature.

Six of the patients presented in cardiac arrest – four PEA and two asystole. One of the PEA patients survived; this patient had sustained a thoracoabdominal GSW and had arrested 8 minutes from hospital. Following emergency thoracotomy, aortic control, and concomitant massive transfusion, return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) was achieved and damage control surgery undertaken in both chest and abdomen.

The two patients in asystole had sustained substantial pulmonary and hilar injuries, and ROSC was never achieved. The patients in PEA all had arrested as a consequence of hypovolaemia from solid intra-abdominal visceral haemorrhage. All patients in PEA had ROSC achieved, albeit temporarily.

Following thoracotomy, patients required surgical manoeuvres such as pulmonary hilar clamping, packing and temporary aortic occlusion; hypovolaemia was the leading underlying cause of the cardiac arrest. These factors lead the authors to conclude that although isolated cardiac wounds do feature in war, they are unusual and the injury pattern of casualties in conflict zones are often complex and multifactorial.

Is pre-hospital thoracotomy necessary in the military environment?
Injury. 2010 Jul;41(7):1008-12