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Thirteen Survivors of Prehospital Thoracotomy for Penetrating Trauma: A Prehospital Physician-Performed Resuscitation Procedure That Can Yield Good Results

Davies, Gareth E. FRCP, FFAEM; Lockey, David J. FRCA, FIMC, RCS(Ed)

The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care: May 2011 - Volume 70 - Issue 5 - p E75-E78
doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e3181f6f72f
Original Article

Background: Prehospital cardiac arrest associated with trauma almost always results in death. A case of survival after prehospital thoracotomy was published in 1994 and several others have followed. This article describes the result of prehospital thoracotomy in a physician-led system for patients with stab wounds to the chest who suffered cardiac arrest on scene.

Methods: A 15-year retrospective prehospital trauma database review identified victims of stab wounds to the chest who suffered cardiac arrest on scene and had thoracotomy performed according to local standard operating procedures.

Results: Overall, 71 patients met inclusion criteria. Thirteen patients (18%) survived to hospital discharge. Neurologic outcome was good in 11 patients and poor in 2. Presenting cardiac rhythm was asystole in four patients, pulseless electrical activity in five, and unrecorded in the remaining four. All survivors had cardiac tamponade. The medical team was present at the time of cardiac arrest for six survivors (good neurologic outcome): arrived in the first 5 minutes after arrest in three patients (all good neurologic outcome), arrived 5 minutes to 10 minutes after arrest in two patients (one poor neurologic outcome), and in one patient (poor neurologic outcome) the period was unknown. Of the survivors, seven thoracotomies were performed by emergency physicians and six by anesthesiologists.

Conclusions: Prehospital thoracotomy is a well-established procedure in this physician-led prehospital service. Results from this and other similar systems suggest that when performed for the subgroup of patients described, significant numbers of survivors with good neurologic outcome can be expected.

From the Department of Pre-hospital Care, Royal London Hospital, London, United Kingdom.

Submitted for publication February 1, 2010.

Accepted for publication August 12, 2010.

Presented in part at the Scandinavian Trauma Update 2007, Stavanger, Norway.

Address for reprints: Dr. David Lockey, Department of Pre-hospital Care, The Helipad, Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Road, London E1 1BB, United Kingdom; email:

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.