Background: Immediate emergency free flaps are defined as flaps performed directly following emergency surgery due to the exposure of major reconstructed arteries, major nerves, bones, and tendons. The authors document their experience in using free anterolateral thigh flaps in the immediate reconstruction of complex upper extremity injuries.
Methods: From January of 2000 to October of 2006, 12 patients ranging from 10 to 59 years old with complicated upper extremity traumatic injuries were treated with immediate emergency free anterolateral thigh flap transfers. These flaps were performed to cover the exposed vital structures. Flap sizes ranged from 30 × 15 to 8 × 6 cm2. A variety of flap designs were used, including six flow-through flaps for upper limb revascularization and three tensor fasciae latae components for gliding planes of exposed repaired tendons. The operative times ranged from 7.2 to 12.1 hours, with an average operative time of about 9.6 hours. The hospital stay was from 13 to 34 days, with average stay of about 27.7 days.
Results: All of the flaps survived. No re-exploration was required. Partial flap necrosis occurred in only one case. Traumatized wound infection occurred in three patients.
Conclusions: The anterolateral thigh flap has been popularized as the versatile flap for soft-tissue reconstruction. It has many advantages, including long pedicle length, large skin territory, flow-though and chimeric concept design, a two-team approach, and no need for changing the position. Thus, it is suitable as the immediate emergency flap for upper extremity salvage.