Background: Postsurgical chronic empyema continues to present a complicated treatment scenario for thoracic and reconstructive surgeons. Muscle flaps are an important option in the management of complex thoracic wounds. This study was designed to report the Emory experience with muscle flaps for the management of complex postsurgical empyema. The authors also present their treatment algorithm for managing empyema thoracis.
Methods: The authors retrospectively reviewed the charts of 55 patients requiring different treatment modalities, including muscle flap transposition. Patients were divided into four groups according to the initial thoracic procedure: group A, no surgical resection; group B, postpneumonectomy; group C, postlobectomy; and group D, prophylactic postpneumonectomy or postlobectomy. The study included 42 men (76.4 percent) and 13 women with a mean age of 62 years (range, 39 to 77 years).
Results: Fifty-one muscle flap procedures were performed in 42 patients (serratus anterior flaps, 16 patients and 23 flaps; latissimus dorsi flaps, 16 patients and 18 flaps; pectoralis major muscle flaps, intercostal muscle flaps, and rectus abdominis flaps, three patients each: omental flap, one patient). The mean number of ribs resected before flap intervention, usually during the open window thoracostomy, was three. The average time from initial thoracic operation to flap intervention was 4 months. Average time from flap intervention to discharge was 12.5 days. Average hospital stay was 26.6 days. The 51 muscle flaps represented an average of 1.2 procedures per patient.
Conclusion: Because of the excellent blood supply of extrathoracic muscle flaps and their ability to reach any place in the pleural cavity, they represent an ideal tissue with which to fill the contaminated pleural space.