JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Emergency craniotomy in a rural Level III trauma center.

Patients with closed head injury and expanding epidural (EDH) or subdural (SDH) hematoma require urgent craniotomy for decompression and control of hemorrhage. In remote areas where neurosurgeons are not available, trauma surgeons may occasionally need to intervene to avert progressive neurologic injury and death. In 1990, a young man with rapidly deteriorating neurologic signs underwent emergency burr hole decompression of a combined EDH/SDH at our hospital, with complete recovery. In anticipation of future need, five surgeons at our rural, American College of Surgeons-verified Level III trauma center participated in a neurosurgeon-directed course in emergency craniotomy. Since January 1, 1991, 792 patients have been entered into the trauma registry, including 60 with closed head injury and Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score of 13 or less. All but seven were transferred to a regional Level II trauma center, which is a minimum flight time of 1 hour each way. All patients with EDH (5) and 2 of 14 with SDH were deemed too unstable for transport and underwent burr hole decompression followed by immediate transfer. All craniotomies were approved by the consulting neurosurgeon and were done for computed tomography-confirmed lesions combined with neurologic deterioration as demonstrated by (1) GCS score of 8 or less, (2) lateralizing signs (dilated pupil, hemiparesis), or (3) development of combined bradycardia and hypertension. One patient with a GCS score of 3 on arrival died. Seven survivors (mean follow-up, 3.9 years; range, 1-6.5 years), including the index case, function independently, although one survivor has moderate cognitive and motor impairment. We conclude that early craniotomy for expanding epidural and subdural hematomas by properly trained surgeons may save lives and reduce morbidity in properly selected cases when timely access to a neurosurgeon is not possible.

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