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Free Flap Reconstruction of Sternal Defects after Cardiac Surgery: An Algorithmic Approach for Dealing with Sparse Recipient Vessels.

BACKGROUND: Sparsity of recipient vessels poses a challenge for microsurgical free flap reconstruction of sternal defects following deep sternal wound infection after cardiac surgery.

METHODS: From January 2013, a standardized algorithm for dealing with sparse recipient vessels was strictly followed. In this retrospective study including 75 patients, we compared operative details, surgical complications, and reconstructive outcomes of patients treated according to this algorithm (group A: January 2013-May 2021; n = 46) with a historical control group (group B: January 2000-December 2012, n = 29).

RESULTS: The left internal mammary artery had been harvested for arterial bypass grafting in 40 of 46 cases (87%) in group A and in all cases in group B. The right internal mammary artery (RIMA) and right internal mammary vein (RIMV) were the first choice as recipient vessels. In case of unsuitability of the RIMV, a right cephalic vein (CV) turndown was used for venous outflow. If both RIMA and RIMV proved insufficient, a single-stage arterio-venous loop (AVL) between the CV and subclavian artery (CV-SA AVL), CV and thoracoacromial artery (CV-TA AVL), or subclavian artery and subclavian vein (SA-SV AVL) was established. The algorithmic approach significantly reduced partial flap necrosis [group A: n = 3 (7%) versus group b: n = 7 (24%); P = 0.04], and overall operation time [group A: 360 ± 88 min versus group B: 415 ± 80 min; P = 0.01].

CONCLUSIONS: Standardized approaches improve clinical outcomes in microsurgical free flap sternal reconstruction after cardiac surgery.

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