BACKGROUND: Resuscitative emergency thoracotomy (ET) is performed as a salvage manoeuvre for selected patients with trauma. However, reports from European trauma centres are scarce.
METHODS: A retrospective analysis was undertaken of injured patients who underwent resuscitative ET in the emergency department (ED) or operating room (OR) between January 1996 and September 2008. Survival in the ED and to hospital discharge was analysed using logistic regression.
RESULTS: During the study interval 121 patients required a resuscitative thoracotomy, of which 49 (40·5 per cent) were performed in the ED and 72 (59·5 per cent) in the OR. Patients in the OR had higher blood pressure on arrival (median 110 versus 60 mmHg; P < 0·001), were less often in severe haemorrhagic shock (63 versus 94 per cent; P < 0·001), had fewer serious head injuries (Abbreviated Injury Score of 3 or above in 33 versus 53 per cent; P = 0·031) and more often had a penetrating stab wound as the dominating mechanism (25 versus 10 per cent; P = 0·042) compared with those in the ED. Ten patients (20 per cent) survived to hospital discharge after ED thoracotomy, compared with 53 (74 per cent) of those treated in the OR. Penetrating injury and Glasgow Coma Scale score above 8 were independent predictors of hospital survival following ED thoracotomy. No patient with a blunt injury and no detectable signs of life on admission survived. Three of 26 patients with blunt trauma and signs of life on admission survived to hospital discharge.
CONCLUSION: Resuscitative ET may be life-saving in selected patients. Location of the procedure is dictated by injury severity and vital parameters. Outcome is best when signs of life are present on admission, even for blunt injuries.