Feasibility of negative pressure wound therapy during intercontinental aeromedical evacuation of combat casualties

Raymond Fang, Warren C Dorlac, Stephen F Flaherty, Caroline Tuman, Steven M Cain, Tracy L C Popey, Douglas R Villard, Jayson D Aydelotte, James R Dunne, Adam M Anderson, Elisha T Powell
Journal of Trauma 2010, 69: S140-5

OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study was to assess the feasibility of utilizing negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT) for the treatment of wartime soft-tissue wounds during intercontinental aeromedical evacuation.

BACKGROUND: Attempts to use NPWT during early phases of overseas contingency operations resulted in occasional vacuum system failures and potentially contributed to wound complications. These anecdotal episodes led to a perception that NPWT during aeromedical evacuation carried a high risk of wound complications and limited its use. As a result, NPWT was not frequently applied in the management of soft-tissue wounds before US casualty arrival in the continental United States (CONUS) for wounds sustained in the combat theaters. Concurrently, early NPWT on the traumatic wounds of host nation casualties not requiring aeromedical evacuation seemed to provide many benefits typically associated with the therapy such as decreased infection rates, earlier wound closure, and improved pain management.

METHODS: On a daily basis, study investigators reviewed the trauma in-patient census at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, to identify patient candidates with soft-tissue extremity or torso wounds that required packing. Patient demographics, injuries, and previous wound treatments were recorded. Surgeons inspected wounds in the operating room and applied a NPWT dressing if deemed appropriate. NPWT was continued throughout the remainder of the patient's hospitalization and also during aeromedical evacuation to CONUS. A study investigator escorted the patient during aeromedical evacuation to educate the flight crews, to record the impact on crew workload, and to troubleshoot the system if necessary.

RESULTS: Thirty enrolled patients with 41 separate wounds flew from Germany to CONUS with a portable NPWT system (VAC Freedom System; Kinetic Concepts Incorporated, San Antonio, TX). All 30 patients arrived at the destination facilities with intact and functional systems. No significant in-flight complications were identified, impact on flight crew workload was negligible, and subjective feedback from both flight crews and patients was uniformly positive. For 29 patients, the NPWT dressing was replaced (frequently with serial exchanges) during initial surgical treatment in CONUS; the 30th patient underwent delayed primary closure of his right forearm fasciotomy. Receiving care teams reported no complications attributable to NPWT during aeromedical evacuation.

CONCLUSIONS: NPWT is feasible during intercontinental aeromedical evacuation of combat casualties without an increase in wound complications or a significant impact on air crew workload. Further studies are indicated to evaluate the efficacy of NPWT in combat wounds compared with other wound care techniques.

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