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Do Resuscitation-Related Injuries Kill Infants and Children?

Matshes, Evan W. MD*; Lew, Emma O. MD

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: June 2010 - Volume 31 - Issue 2 - p 178-185
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e3181df62ee
Original Article

Occasionally, individuals accused of inflicting fatal injuries on infants and young children will claim some variant of the “CPR defense,” that is, they attribute the cause of injuries found at autopsy to their “untrained” resuscitative efforts. A 10-year (1994–2003) historical fixed cohort study of all pediatric forensic autopsies at the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department was undertaken. To be eligible for inclusion in the study, children had to have died of atraumatic causes, with or without resuscitative efforts (Natraumatic = 546). Of these, 382 had a history of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR; average age of 4.17 years); 248 had CPR provided by trained individuals only; 133 had CPR provided by both trained and untrained individuals; 1 had CPR provided by untrained individuals only. There was no overlap between these 3 distinct groups. Twenty-two findings potentially attributable to CPR were identified in 19:15 cases of orofacial injuries compatible with attempted endotracheal intubation; 4 cases with focal pulmonary parenchymal hemorrhage; 1 case with prominent anterior mediastinal emphysema; and 2 cases with anterior chest abrasions. There were no significant hollow or solid thoracoabdominal organ injuries. There were no rib fractures. The estimated relative risk of injury subsequent to resuscitation was not statistically different between the subset of decedents whose resuscitative attempts were made by trained individuals only, and the subset who received CPR from both trained and untrained individuals. In the single case of CPR application by an untrained individual only, no injuries resulted. The remaining 164 children dying from nontraumatic causes and who did not undergo resuscitative efforts served as a control group; no injuries were identified. This study indicates that in the pediatric population, injuries secondary to resuscitative efforts are infrequent or rare, pathophysiologically inconsequential, and predominantly orofacial in location. In our population, CPR did not result in any rib fractures or significant visceral injuries. Participation of nonmedical or untrained individuals in resuscitation did not increase the likelihood of injury.

From the *Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada; and †Medical Examiner Department, Miami-Dade County, Miami, FL.

Manuscript received April 6, 2007; accepted April 20, 2007.

Reprints: Evan Matshes, MD, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Calgary, Foothills Hospital, 11th Floor, 1403–29 Street N.W. Calgary, Alberta T2N 2T9, Canada. E-mail:

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.