A 29-year-old motor vehicle collision passenger presented with fractures of the pelvic ring, bilateral femurs, and right tibia/fibula. All fractures were stabilized with external fixation and fixed definitively 48 hours later. Postoperatively, the patient suffered rapid clinical decline. Emergent head computed tomography (CT) demonstrated tonsillar herniation with loss of gray-white matter differentiation. Although respiratory status remained uncompromised throughout presentation, pathology revealed extensive cerebral fat embolism.
Fat embolism can traverse the lungs without eliciting an inflammatory response, radiographic infiltrate, or impairing gas exchange. This may lead to a clinically silent, fatal cerebral fat embolism in an intubated, sedated patient.