Despite advances in head and neck reconstruction with free-tissue transfer techniques, oropharyngocutaneous fistulas continue to present challenging and potentially lethal complications. The authors present a system for prioritizing these fistulas and the surgical management of nine patients in whom critical fistulas developed after microsurgical head and neck reconstruction. The indications for aggressive management of these fistulas were primarily dependent on their location. Three peristomal and six midneck fistulas were considered critical because of the risk of aspiration pneumonia and carotid artery blowout, respectively. Fistulas located in the submental and/or submandibular region were considered noncritical and were managed conservatively. Using the concept of a “tissue plug” for fistula repair, a dermal component (i.e., a deltopectoral or pectoralis major pedicled flap) is guided through the fistula, and with external traction the tissue “plugs” the tract. No sutures are placed directly in the surrounding friable tissue. There were no partial or total flap losses. There were two fistula recurrences in patients who had received postoperative radiation therapy. One of these recurrences was due to tumor recurrence within the previous fistula and was managed with palliative measures. The other fistula recurrence was closed with a local-flap procedure on an outpatient basis. All patients resumed oral feeding, except for the patient in whom tumor recurrence was suspected. This tissue-plug technique can be used in the management of critical peristomal and/or midneck oropharyngocutaneous fistulas not only to obliterate the tract but also to augment volume and vascularity in already damaged, ischemic, and deficient tissue.
From the Department of Plastic Surgery, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, and Iida Hospital.
Received for publication May 22, 2002;
revised November 1, 2002.
Hung-Chi Chen, M.D.
Department of Plastic Surgery, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, 199 Tun-Hwa North Road, Taipei, Taiwan
Presented at the National Meeting of the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery, in Kuaui, Hawaii, January of 2003.