Background: Free flap success depends on rapid identification and subsequent salvage of failing flaps. Conventional free flap monitoring techniques require an external component, whereas an implantable monitor readily indicates changes in free flap perfusion, especially in buried flaps used in head and neck reconstruction.
Methods: This is a retrospective review of 169 consecutive head and neck free flaps reconstructed mostly for oncologic surgical defects in 155 patients from April of 2000 to December of 2006, all of which were monitored by an implantable venous Doppler device.
Results: There were 25 buried flaps, representing 14.8 percent of 169 flaps. Flap ischemia caused by thrombosis (n = 16), hematoma (n = 2), or tight closure (n = 1) occurred in 11.2 percent of the cases. The Doppler probe detected all of the failing free flaps, and we were able to salvage 18 of 19 ischemic flaps (94.7 percent). All Doppler-detected ischemic nonburied flaps (100 percent) and three of the four buried free flaps were salvaged (75 percent). There were 33 total complications (19.5 percent), with thrombosis occurring in 9.5 percent of the flaps, whereas 12 flaps required reoperation for vascular revision (7.1 percent). The mortality rate was less than 1 percent (0.6 percent). The overall success rate using the implantable Doppler probe was 98.2 percent, which was similar to that of the most recent reported cases of all free flaps in the literature, with significant improvement in the salvage rate for both buried and nonburied head and neck free flaps.
Conclusion: The implantable Doppler probe is a useful monitoring device in buried free flaps and should be considered for use in head and neck reconstruction.