A team from Los Angeles (including the great Kenji Inaba) has published a study on penetrating cardiac wounds in the pediatric population. This is one of the largest studies on this thankfully rare event.
The outcome was poor which may be due to the high proportion of patients arriving at hospital without signs of life (SOL).
What I like about the paper is the discussion of their liberal policy for the use of resuscitative ED thoracotomy:
…we do not rely heavily on prehospital data regarding the precise timing of loss of SOL. Thus, at the discretion of the attending trauma surgeon, every penetrating injury to the chest with SOL lost during patient transport will be considered for ED thoracotomy.
In cases when a perfusing cardiac rhythm is regained, the patient will receive all operative and critical care support as standard of care. If the patient progresses to brain death, aggressive donor management will be implemented in accordance with consent obtained by the organ procurement organization.
In a recent publication, we observed two pediatric patients who underwent ED thoracotomy that subsequently became organ donors after brain death was declared . A total of nine organs were recovered for transplantation. This contemporary outcome measure is of paramount importance in the current era of significant organ shortage.
When such aggressive resuscitative procedures are attempted on arrested trauma patients, there is a temptation to justify inaction on the grounds of futility or the risk of ‘creating a vegetable’. This paper reminds us that other outcome benefits may arise from attempted resuscitation even if the patient does not survive.
These benefits include the saving of other lives through organ donation. In addition to this, there is the opportunity for family members to be with their loved one on the ICU, to hold their warm hand for the last time, to hear the news broken by a team they have gotten to know and trust, to enact any spiritual or religious rites that may provide a source of comfort and closure, and to be there during withdrawal of life sustaining therapies after diagnosis of brain stem death. That will never be pleasant, but on the bleak spectrum of parental torture it may be better than being told the devastating news in the ED relatives’ room by a stranger they’ve never met but will remember forever.
The ED thoracotomy may at the very least remove any doubt that everything that could have been done, was done.
1. Penetrating cardiac trauma in adolescents: A rare injury with excessive mortality
Journal of Pediatric Surgery (2013) 48, 745–749
Background Penetrating cardiac injuries in pediatric patients are rarely encountered. Likewise, the in-hospital outcome measures following these injuries are poorly described.
Methods All pediatric patients (<18years) sustaining penetrating cardiac injuries between 1/2000 and 12/2010 were retrospectively identified using the trauma registry of an urban level I trauma center. Demographic and admission variables, operative findings, and hospital course were extracted. Outpatient follow-up data were obtained through chart reviews and cardiac-specific imaging studies.
Results During the 11-year study period, 32 of the 4569 pediatric trauma admissions (0.7%) sustained penetrating cardiac injuries. All patients were male and the majority suffered stab wounds (81.2%). The mean systolic blood pressure on admission was 28.8±52.9mmHg and the mean ISS was 46.9±27.7. Cardiac chambers involved were the right ventricle (46.9%), the left ventricle (43.8%), and the right atrium (18.8%). Overall, 9 patients (28.1%) survived to hospital discharge. Outpatient follow-up echocardiography was available for 4 patients (44.4%). An abnormal echocardiography result was found in 1 patient, demonstrating hypokinesia and tricuspid regurgitation.
Conclusions Penetrating cardiac trauma is a rare injury in the pediatric population. Cardiac chambers predominantly involved are the right and left ventricles. This injury is associated with a low in-hospital survival (<30%).
2. Organ donation: an important outcome after resuscitative thoracotomy
J Am Coll Surg. 2010 Oct;211(4):450-5
BACKGROUND: The persistent shortage of transplantable organs remains a critical issue around the world. The purpose of this study was to investigate outcomes, including organ procurement, in trauma patients undergoing resuscitative emergency department thoracotomy (EDT). Our hypothesis was that potential organ donor rescue is one of the important outcomes after traumatic arrest and EDT.
STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective study at Los Angeles County and University of Southern California Medical Center. Patients undergoing resuscitative EDT from January 1, 2006 through June 30, 2009 were analyzed. Primary outcomes measures included survival. Secondary outcomes included organ donation and the brain-dead potential organ donor.
RESULTS: During the 42-month study period, a total of 263 patients underwent EDT. Return of a pulse was achieved in 85 patients (32.3%). Of those patients, 37 (43.5%) subsequently died in the operating room and 48 (56.5%) survived to the surgical intensive care unit. Overall, 5 patients (1.9%) survived to discharge and 11 patients (4.2%) became potential organ donors. Five of the 11 potential organ donors had sustained a blunt mechanism injury. Of the 11 potential organ donors, 8 did not donate: 4 families declined consent, 3 because of poor organ function, and 1 expired due to cardiopulmonary collapse. Eventually 11 organs (6 kidneys, 2 livers, 2 pancreases, and 1 small bowel) were harvested from 3 donors. Two of the 3 donors had sustained blunt injury and 1 penetrating mechanism of injury.
CONCLUSIONS: Procurement of organs is one of the tangible outcomes after EDT. These organs have the potential to alter the survival and quality of life of more recipients than the number of survivors of the procedure itself.