The London Helicopter Emergency Medical Service provides a physician / paramedic team to victims of trauma. One of the interventions performed by their physicians is pre-hospital resuscitative thoracotomy to patients with cardiac arrest due to penetrating thoracic trauma. They have published the outcomes from this procedure over a 15 year period which show an 18% survival to discharge rate, with a high rate of neurologically intact survivors1.
The article was submitted for publication on February 1, 2010, and in the discussion mentions a further two survivors from the procedure performed after conducting the study. It is likely therefore in the year and a half since submission still more patients have been saved. It will be interesting to read future reports from this team as the numbers accumulate; penetrating trauma missions are sadly increasing in frequency.
Having worked for these guys and performed this procedure in the field a few times myself, I can attest to the training and governance surrounding this system. The technique of clamshell thoracotomy is well described 2 and one I would recommend for the non-surgeon.
BACKGROUND: Prehospital cardiac arrest associated with trauma almost always results in death. A case of survival after prehospital thoracotomy was published in 1994 and several others have followed. This article describes the result of prehospital thoracotomy in a physician-led system for patients with stab wounds to the chest who suffered cardiac arrest on scene.
METHODS: A 15-year retrospective prehospital trauma database review identified victims of stab wounds to the chest who suffered cardiac arrest on scene and had thoracotomy performed according to local standard operating procedures.
RESULTS: Overall, 71 patients met inclusion criteria. Thirteen patients (18%) survived to hospital discharge. Neurologic outcome was good in 11 patients and poor in 2. Presenting cardiac rhythm was asystole in four patients, pulseless electrical activity in five, and unrecorded in the remaining four. All survivors had cardiac tamponade. The medical team was present at the time of cardiac arrest for six survivors (good neurologic outcome): arrived in the first 5 minutes after arrest in three patients (all good neurologic outcome), arrived 5 minutes to 10 minutes after arrest in two patients (one poor neurologic outcome), and in one patient (poor neurologic outcome) the period was unknown. Of the survivors, seven thoracotomies were performed by emergency physicians and six by anesthesiologists.
CONCLUSIONS: Prehospital thoracotomy is a well-established procedure in this physician-led prehospital service. Results from this and other similar systems suggest that when performed for the subgroup of patients described, significant numbers of survivors with good neurologic outcome can be expected.
1. Thirteen Survivors of Prehospital Thoracotomy for Penetrating Trauma: A Prehospital Physician-Performed Resuscitation Procedure That Can Yield Good Results
J Trauma. 2011 May;70(5):E75-8