Emergency department thoracotomy (EDT) for pediatric patients is uncommon, and practice patterns have not been evaluated. We examined the indications and outcomes for EDT by trauma center designation using a nationwide database.
Patients 16 years or younger who underwent EDT within 30 minutes of arrival from 2013 to 2016 were identified in the American College of Surgeons National Trauma Data Bank. Patient demographic information, indications for EDT, and outcomes were analyzed. Outcomes were compared between centers with and without pediatric trauma center designation.
A total of 114 patients were identified for analysis with a mean ± SD age of 10.3 ± 4.7 years. Patients were predominantly male (69%) with a median Injury Severity Score of 26 (interquartile range, 18–42). Penetrating trauma occurred in 56%. Overall, mortality was 90% and was similar in penetrating and blunt trauma (88% vs. 94%; p = 0.34). There were no survivors among the 53 patients (46%) who arrived with no signs of life. Among the 11 patients (10%) who survived, median length of stay was 26 days (interquartile range, 6–28 days). Overall, 8% of EDT was performed at free-standing pediatric trauma centers, 45% at adult centers, and 47% at combined trauma centers. Mortality rates and indications were similar among trauma centers regardless of designation status.
In a national population-based data set, the mortality after pediatric EDT is high, and many of these procedures are performed at nonpediatric trauma centers. Regardless of injury mechanism, EDT is not appropriate in children without signs of life on arrival. Pediatric guidelines are needed to increase awareness of the poor outcomes and limited indications for EDT.
LEVEL OF EVIDENCE
Therapeutic, level IV.