Of the 24 patients with rupture, 22 (92%) died within 24 hours. One died 6 days after injury, and one died 30 hours from injury. Precise time of rupture data was available in 13 patients. Of these, 46% died within 4 hours, and an additional 38% died within 8 hours. There were 8 stable patients who died in the operating room. All died of exsanguination after loss of proximal aortic control. The mean intensive care unit (ICU) and hospital lengths of stay for survivors were 15.6 and 27.2 days, respectively. Those corresponding lengths of stay for nonsurvivors (excluding in extremis patients) were 12.0 and 12.0 days.
This study was designed to define the current presentation and management of BAI in the North American environment. It was hoped that in addition to describing the scenario, that novel findings may result, as well as an elucidation of advantages to diagnostic and management techniques. It does not appear there were any novel findings. But, it does appear that analysis of clinical management has provided some important new light.
The major strengths of the design are that it provided (1) the largest number of cases of BAI injury reported, (2) a broad based experience (trauma centers in 22 states, three Canadian provinces, and the District of Columbia), and (3) prospective data collection. Relative to other large series that have retrospectively reported over 6-15 years, [5-7] this study was conducted over 2.5 years, thus minimizing the effects of confounding variables over time impacting on interpretation of results. It has been estimated that 7,500 to 8,000 cases of BAI occur annually. [8,9] Furthermore, 80-85% of those patients die at the scene. [1,4] Thus, approximately 1,000-1,500 cases of BAI arrive at hospitals alive annually. The 274 reported cases reported here over 2.5 years likely represent approximately 10% of all cases of BAI surviving the accident scenes during the study period. This sample size should be sufficient to demonstrate a reasonable reflection of presentation and management today. The wide range of geographic representation of study sites should minimize regional bias and provide a broad perspective for interpreting results of how BAI is being managed. This study represents the first attempt at a large prospective study of BAI. Prospective data collection has the obvious advantages of providing more complete and accurate data than retrospective studies.
The major weaknesses of the study are that there were (1) a large number of institutions and individual surgeons involved and (2) there were no randomizations to directly compare issues surrounding diagnosis and treatment. Thus, the broad based nature is clearly a two-edged sword. It likely reflects the reality of BAI management on this continent, but also somewhat confounds because of the inherent heterogeneity of the study design. Although there were no direct comparisons of modes of management, the size of the trial did permit for some reasonably focused analyses, particularly with regard to issues of operative management.
The mechanisms of injury noted were similar to most recent series, with 81% caused by motor vehicle crashes. BAI has generally been thought to be associated with rapid decelerating injury, usually interpreted as being attributable to head-on impact. This study found 28% were attributable to other vectors (24% side and 4% rear). A recent autopsy study of 142 individuals with BAI found 72% resulted from motor vehicle crashes, and that 58% were associated with head-on collisions and 42% broadside collisions.  The associated injury pattern was similar to other studies with the exception that half of the patients were reported to have some degree of closed head injury, whereas others have reported closed head injuries in approximately 30%. [1,5,7]
The newer diagnostic modalities of TEE and chest computed tomography have received increasing attention over the past decade for definitive diagnosis of BAI. In this report, not surprisingly, chest x-ray technology has remained the main screening tool. The small number of cases in which it was not obtained were in patients presenting in extremis. Although multiple ancillary chest x-ray findings have been described, which can be helpful in calling attention to the diagnosis, mediastinal widening continues to be the dominant trigger for further work-up. Although there was a significant use of TEE and computed tomography, aortography remains the predominant approach for definitive diagnosis. A focused interest in TEE has demonstrated sensitivity and accuracy equal to aortography.  However, this generally requires an interested group of cardiologists and is operator dependent. In this study, only 11% had TEE, but with fairly good results. This technique may be more broadly used in the future,  especially considering the increasing maturation of trauma centers as well as the changes in health care financing. Chest CT scans were performed in a higher number of patients (32%). The results were similar to those of TEE, with both being less definitive than aortography. The higher utilization of CT scanning is probably explained by it being more accessible. Some reports of CT scans for BAI have found it to be inaccurate and perhaps dangerous. [13,14] However, with the advancing technology of helical scanners, others have recently found the sensitivity to equal aortography. 
Outcomes according to patient groups and methods of operative management will be discussed next. There were no survivors among patients either arriving in extremis or of those arriving stable but subsequently rupturing the pseudoaneurysm. This finding is in accord with other reports. [5,6] The degree of aortic injury is a continuum from subintimal hemorrhage to total aortic disruption. This pathology was nicely detailed in the classic study by Parmley et al.  That was a study of 296 BAI from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and the Walter Reed Army Hospital with only 38 (13%) patients arriving alive. Autopsies were done in all deaths with close attention paid to the aortic pathology. The lesions were classified as (1) intimal hemorrhage, (2) intimal hemorrhage with laceration, (3) medial laceration, (4) complete laceration of the aorta, (5) false aneurysm formation, and (6) periaortic hemorrhage.  The degree of aortic disruption is undoubtedly the key factor in the likelihood of rupture. Those with full-thickness injury and false aneurysm confined by a thin layer of adventitia and the mediastinal pleura likely represent the patients presenting in extremis or those who develop spontaneous rupture. Controlling blood pressure and aortic wall tension with vasodilators and beta-blockers has been used to diminish the risk of patients before planned thoracotomy both acutely as well as those who have planned nonoperative management because of associated injuries. [5,16] This control is probably an important concept that will decrease rupture and should be more widely applied. These measures were reported to be applied in 17% of patients in this series. We were unable to correlate admission blood pressures with subsequent rupture, but these were only isolated measurements. At the other end of the spectrum are those patients with isolated intimal injuries, and with intimal injuries into, but not through, the media. Some of these may have minimal to no hematoma and may be missed. It is probable that as computed tomography and TEE are more widely applied, more of those lesions will be discovered. That will require further study of the natural history of those minimal lesions. Undoubtedly some heal spontaneously as is the case with intimal injuries in large peripheral arteries.
Of the 38 patients from the Parmley series who arrived at the hospital alive, only two underwent operation.  Aortography was not used at that time. The remaining 36 patients are those in whom the natural history of spontaneous rupture after hospitalization was defined: of those surviving 1 hour or more, 30% died within 6 hours, 40% within 24 hours, 72% by 8 days, 83% by 3 weeks, and 90% by 10 weeks. Of the spontaneous ruptures in the current series, all but one occurred within 30 hours of injury. The difference in timing of rupture in this series versus the Parmley report of 1958 is that most of the patients who died beyond 12 hours in the early report would be diagnosed and operated upon today because of the advances in diagnostics. Nonetheless, the interval analysis of injury to repair time in stable patients in this study found a number of patients were operated upon a few days after injury. Thus, we must continue to improve our diagnostic capabilities. A significant proportion of those surviving for longer intervals without repair are likely the selected population with aortic tears less than full-thickness.
There has been interest expressed in recent literature concerning who should perform aortic repair. A study from Tampa reported a 50% mortality rate among 12 patients operated upon by ten different board certified general/thoracic surgeons compared with 7% mortality among 15 patients operated upon by two designated thoracic trauma surgeons.  They concluded that designated thoracic trauma surgeons should be operating upon these patients. The Denver group reported on 18 patients with an 11% mortality, all operated upon by experienced trauma surgeons without formal thoracic surgical residency.  They concluded that trauma surgeons can produce outcomes equivalent to cardiothoracic surgeons. They also believe more general surgeons should be adequately trained to handle such cases. Both reports prove important points that are valid. The first demonstrates that the occasional surgeon is not appropriately prepared to manage BAI, whereas the second demonstrate that general surgeons who are dedicated and take a very active interest and receive nonformalized training by cardiothoracic surgeons can produce excellent results. Although cardiothoracic surgeons performed 91% of the planned repairs in the current study, the outcomes obtained in the 9% managed by general surgeons demonstrate that interested general surgeons can indeed achieve excellent results.
The most important points addressed by this study are those concerning details of operative repair. A significant controversy has developed over whether there are differences in results comparing simple clamp exclusion and direct repair (clamp and sew) to techniques that provide distal aortic perfusion during repair. Specifically, is paraplegia, the most significant complication of repair, lowered by distal aortic perfusion techniques? Advantages of clamp and sew are simplicity and the lack of need for heparin. That approach has received significant support in recent literature. [5,6,9] Potential advantages of bypass techniques are that the distal aorta is perfused, which may decrease paraplegia rates, as well as reduce ischemia and reperfusion injuries associated with sacrifice of hepatic, renal, and mesenteric flow during clamp and sew repair.  Disadvantages of partial and full bypass are the need for systemic heparinization, which may predispose toward bleeding complications in patients with multiple injuries. The centrifugal pumps provide the advantages of distal perfusion while eliminating the potential hazards of heparin.  Gott shunts have been largely abandoned because of their somewhat awkward nature for insertion into the left ventricle or proximal aorta as well as a tendency to occlude.
Long cross clamp times have been demonstrated to be associated with paraplegia in several studies. The tenuous and variable distribution of blood supply to the spinal cord accounts for the susceptibility to injury as well as the unpredictability, i.e., some patients with very short cross clamp times develop cord injury.  Several investigators have reported statistically significant increases in paraplegia rates when cross clamp times exceeded 30, [6,22,23] or 35 minutes. [7,24] Although those reports are retrospective, the results do not appear to be biased by more severe injury patterns or more perturbed physiology. The logistic regression analysis from this study strongly confirms the impact of cross clamp times on paraplegia, while accounting for the confounding variables.
If cross clamp times below 30 minutes occur, perhaps the issue of clamp and sew versus bypass is of little consequence. However, it is often difficult to predict preoperatively which cases will have more complex injuries and will require more extended cross clamp time. Several groups have reported decreased paraplegia rates with bypass compared with clamp and sew. [7,22,24-26] Hunt, et al. have further demonstrated that bypass provided significant (p = 0.005) protection against spinal cord injury compared with clamp and sew when cross clamp times exceeded 35 minutes.  The results of the logistic regression analysis from this study also substantiate that observation; not only was cross clamp time predictive of spinal cord injury, but bypass was also independently predictive of protection against spinal cord injury.
The final issue dealing with operation is the optimal choice of bypass technique. A review of five published series using centrifugal pumps in 58 patients, found there was no instance of paraplegia.  In this report, although not statistically significant, the paraplegia rate was lowest (2.9%) with the centrifugal pump in 69 cases compared with partial/full cardiopulmonary bypass (6.6%) in 61 cases. There were a high number of associated laparotomies and orthopedic procedures. Although neither significant complications were noted with heparin in the partial/full bypass groups, nor were there differences in mortality compared with the centrifugal pump group, the centrifugal pump does eliminate heparin requirements. It is possible that concerns with short-term (generally 1 to 2 hours) heparinization are exaggerated. Prolonged heparinization for blunt carotid artery injury management has been undertaken in patients with multiple injuries with minimal complications.  Heparin does not cause clot lysis and would probably promote only ongoing bleeding. But, it is obvious that avoidance of heparin would be preferred.
The overall mortality of 31% for BAI is commensurate with recent series. Aortic rupture was the direct cause for 63% of those deaths. Forty percent of the ruptures were in patients presenting in extremis. Beyond prevention measures, and maximizing the expediency of transport to the definitive care facility, nothing will reduce that mortality. Twenty-four patients (8.8% of the study population and 44% of ruptures) arrived with stable vital signs and had rupture of the aorta within 30 hours of admission. That group probably represents those with full-thickness aortic disruption with the false aneurysm maintained by a thin layer of adventitia and surrounding tissue. They clearly illustrate the continued importance of early, aggressive diagnostic measures followed by prompt thoracotomy.
The authors would like to acknowledge the excellent study coordination by the following: Colleen Swartz, MSN (Lexington, Ky), Maureen Misinski, RN, MSN (Indianapolis, Ind), Karen S. Romano, RN (Buffalo, NY), Kathy Layton, RN (Sacramento, Calif), Carol S. Hill-Gulick, RN, MSN (Cincinnati, Ohio), Adale Derrick, RN (Springfield, Mo), Kathryn Jenkins, RN (Springfield, Mo), Grace McDonald-Smith, MEd (Boston, Mass), Joan L. Garcia, RN, CCRC (San Diego, Calif), Connie Mattice, RN, MSN (Grand Rapids, Mich), Christine Stinson, ART (Pittsburgh, Penn), Jay Hamm, RN (Columbis, SC), Susan Kennedy, RN (Washington, DC), Judy Schmidt, RN (Washington, DC), Glenn Raup, RN (Houston, Tex), Patricia J. Manni, RN (Pittsburgh, Penn), Eileen Corcoran, RN (Lebanon, NH), Ronald Diamond (Lebanon, NH), Theresa Christiansen, MS, RN, Pamela Lambert, BSN, RN, Melinda L. Kilbride, RN, Deborah Allen, RN (Syracuse, NY), Mary J. Keegan, RN, MSN (St. Louis, Mo), Mary Forcia, RN (Lansing, Mich), Tammy M. Bratton, RN, BSN (Savannah, Ga), Susan Schrage, RN (Rochester, Minn), Dennis Rowe, EMT-P (Knoxville, Tenn), Robert Marburger, RN (Camden, NJ), Bruce Bennett, MD (Minneapolis, Minn), Carol Hill-Gulick (Cincinnati, Ohio).
Dr. Wayne Meredith (Winston-Salem, North Carolina): I enjoyed this paper very much, Dr. Fabian, and I want to commend the Multi-institutional Trials Committee, and I want to commend you. This is one of those manuscripts, the more you read it, the more information you find and the better it gets. I highly recommend it to everyone. It reads easily, it's well-written, and it is full of pearls.
I want to emphasize a few of those that I don't think you covered in your discussion well, and end up with just a few questions.
This study is a snapshot of what's happening in the country. The authors admit and start out by saying it is not possible to recommend treatment methods with this study. The time to diagnosis in the trauma centers in this country, 50 different trauma centers is 4.7 hours from arrival to the trauma center to the diagnosis. Times from making the diagnosis to operating the patient, 10 hours mean. Those are very interesting statistics, and I think they set the standard, and it's a pretty low goalpost to overcome.
I would appreciate those times being reported as a median so we could get some picture of the distribution, because I think a few long times distort the mean.
It's very interesting that 25% of the patients are side impact collisions. That's very valuable information. So this injury is not confined to head-on collision patients.
The next subtle point that's hidden in these data is that these patients actually come in two groups, stable or dying. Patients who are hypotensive, patients who require recurrent transfusions, patients who can't keep their blood pressure up, it is not because their mediastinum is wide. If their aorta is ruptured, all of those patients die, and so it should not be assumed that the patient who is in shock is in shock from their widened mediastinum. Something else is causing shock, and it needs to be fixed, and these data strongly support that concept, although it's hidden in the data to be teased out.
The next part of the picture, TEE and CT scans are useful, but they're not diagnostic and they're not adequate.
Now, as for the paraplegia question, my personal series at North Carolina Baptist Hospital, as the surgeon, there's 35 patients, the mean cross-clamp time was 21 minutes. The range is eight minutes to 27 minutes. There's no paraplegia in those patients. It is possible to do this operation and repair this injury with the clamp and run technique and have very good results.
There is no question from this data that you can extend the length of time available to you to teach, to look around, to figure out what to do by putting the patient on bypass. I do not think we should take from this study in this highly litigious subject, the concept that one must repair this injury on bypass. There are some patients where that is not going to be possible. I think that we need to move to a selective use of bypass and would appreciate your recommendation as to which patients those would be.
A few questions, and then I'll close. Are there any patients too old to repair? In other words, how are the nonoperative patients chosen?
What are the trauma centers in the country doing to prevent hypertension between arrival of the patient and getting the patient to the operating room? It's very important to prevent these patients from becoming hypertensive, I believe. Can you tease from this mass of data any way to substantiate that concept or show us what should be done?
Did you look at the relationship between paraplegia and shock, or paraplegia and the number of intercostal vessels excluded? I think both of those factors are major contributors that are not considered in just looking at how the bypass is managed and perfusion is managed.
And last, can you see any relation between mortality or paraplegia to the volume of patients treated, i.e., to the experience of the institution? This is a very good model for regionalizing trauma care. The average number of patients seen with this injury in the 50 trauma centers all well respected is four patients over this 2.5-year period. It is clear that if you gain a lot of experience with this injury, you can do it better, and it seems to me that we ought to be able to look for the data in this study to show that regionalization would be helpful.
This is a very good paper. The Multi-Institutional Trials Committee needs to be very proud, and Dr. Fabian can be proud for how well it's written.
I thank the organization for the privilege of the floor.
Dr. Donald D. Trunkey (Portland, Oregon): Dr. Fabian, I, too, enjoyed this paper. I look forward to reading the manuscript.
There was one area, though, that you went over very briefly, and I was wondering if you would expand on it. You said that a fair number of patients had associated celiotomy: two-thirds before repair of the aorta; one-third after repair of the aorta.
I've always taught our residents to do the celiotomy first, and I'm curious about the one-third that you did after the thoracotomy. In your analysis, could you find anything that would help us in the decision-making process? Did these patients bleed during the time that the thoracotomy was being done? Why was the celiotomy done afterwards?
Dr. Aurelio Rodriguez (Baltimore, Maryland): Dr. Fabian, you have collected important data in this project.
On the basis of my personal surgical involvement with more than 100 patients with blunt aortic injury during the past 15 years, allow me to ask two questions: At the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, we have not observed 100% correlation between clamping time and paraplegia. However, hypotension before, during, or after clamping seems to be a very important risk factor for paraplegia. Does anything in your data implicate perioperative hypotension as such a risk factor?
We cannot anticipate preoperatively, based on radiographic or clinical evidence, that repair of a blunt aortic injury will demand more or less than 30 minutes of clamping time. Therefore, for the past 2 years, we have been using the Bio-Medicus pump during these aortic repairs. Twelve patients have undergone surgery in this manner, and none of them developed paraplegia. Unfortunately, brain-injured patients with aortic injury repaired using this device tend to get worse neurologically. Have you found any correlation between use of a pump and neurologic outcome in patients with head injury?
Thank you very much. I am sorry that my institution could not participate in this valuable study.
Dr. John R. Hall (Kingsport, Tennessee): Dr. Fabian, I enjoyed your paper, too. I have several questions.
Your 7% normal chest x-rays, were those upright or flat, and who read them as being normal? We recently had a case which the radiologist read as normal with the later caveat as normal for technique, which we felt was abnormal and had a positive aortogram.
Second, with your normal CAT scans, I have a problem with papers now days saying the CAT scans were normal, because there's apples and oranges. Did you have a spiral CAT scan or the old-fashioned regular CAT scan, and was your contrast given by constant infusion or by bolus?
Dr. Matthew Wall (Houston, Texas): Dr. Fabian, I enjoyed your paper.
Three questions and a comment. First, did you control for patient temperature? Hypothermia has a protective effect on the spinal cord, and many of the bypass circuits have a heat exchanger where you can manipulate the patient's temperature.
Second, what number of patients were operated on without arteriography?
Third, were any of the patients treated with perioperative spinal fluid drainage?
And finally, I think one of the important messages of this paper is that a significant number of patients can be managed nonoperatively, particularly if they have concomitant injuries.
Dr. Ernest E. Moore, Jr. (Denver, Colorado): The reduction of postoperative paraplegia attributed to partial left heart bypass in patients requiring >30 min of aortic crossclamping may underestimate the full benefits of active bypass in the typical multisystem injured patient with a torn aorta. Specifically, bypass may provide critical ventricular unloading and attenuate hepatoenteric ischemia-reperfusion during aortic clamping. Considering this hypothesis, have you done a multiple logistic regression analysis to elucidate the potential benefits of bypass, as an independent factor, on outcome measures reflecting dysfunctional systemic hyperinflammation, i.e., ARDS or MOF?
Dr. Christopher C. Baker (Chapel Hill, North Carolina): Again, I would compliment Dr. Fabian, particularly on his presentation.
I think some of the discussants are pushing for a little bit too much from data bases like this given our experience from our study in North Carolina presented last year.
The question I have for Dr. Fabian is: Can you share with us the range of numbers of cases per institution in terms of the low number and the high number with the median, since I think that would help us look at the data base a little bit better?
Dr. A. Brent Eastman (La Jolla, California): Dr. Fabian, I also would add my congratulations to you on the multi-institutional trial study.
I have one question, and that's your patient that had the below-the-diaphragm rupture. How was that case managed? There are only approximately 32 of these cases in the literature. Was there a dissection associated with this injury? Was it managed nonoperatively?
Dr. Timothy C. Fabian (closing): I would start out by acknowledging the importance of what Chip Baker said. In a multicenter study such as this, you can't do it among 50 sites and get every kernel of data that you would like. The number of the questions that have been asked, I will not be able to answer which I am sure most of you already recognize. But, there are a number of questions that can be addressed and I will go through them individually. Wayne Meredith asked about the prolonged times from diagnosis to management. They do indeed seem long but that is what is happening in the U.S. and Canadian centers. Should we work on it? Yes, I think we should, and we would probably have fewer in-hospital ruptures in stable patients than occurred in this study. Of the ruptures which occurred in-hospital following stabilization, all of those patients died and all but one within 30 hours.
Dr. Meredith is to be complimented on his personal series with excellent results in 35 patients with short cross-clamp times. He then asked me who should be bypassed. I think that this is a crux of the question in current management of blunt aortic injury, and I do not want anyone to take this data to a court of law and use it one way or the other. It is also an issue of "don't shoot the messenger." I am simply reporting on the data that has been generated among the institutions from the multicenter trial and what is happening in operative management in those centers. But, I think if you get to centers where some individuals have huge experiences, it may not make any difference which surgical approach is taken. It may be that like most operations: the more you do the better you get, but the volume of aortic injuries is such that everyone cannot have a large experience. There are a lot of places that are going to have some cases to do but that simply will not have a large volume of experience. You cannot predict who is going to require longer cross-clamp times: the more complex injuries. Someone may be seeing three or four a year, and may not know preoperatively the extent of the disease because angiography generally does not illustrate which are the more complex injuries requiring longer cross clamp times. So I think with smaller volume institutions that they may probably should look more into bypass techniques. Also, interestingly, over the course of this study, I could see more and more institutions were going to the centrifugal pump. As far as prevention of hypertension, I think this is an excellent point and is not being used nearly enough. Once the diagnosis is considered in the patient who is not hypotensive, I believe all of these patients should be given agents to keep their mean pressure in the 70 to 80 range. Combinations of short acting beta-blockers with or without nitroprusside have been demonstrated to decrease blood pressure and wall tension. A more wide-spread use of this technique would likely decrease the 8% of patients who rupture in the hospital.
A number of questions were asked about details of paraplegia relative to shock, temperature, and the like. These data were not attempted to be addressed in this type of multicenter study. I would recommend for other people who are doing nonfunded, multicenter trials, with this organization or with other organizations in the future that it gets rapidly to the point of diminishing returns. If you ask for too many things, it gets to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that you are going to start failing and you will get less and less. So I think in retrospect, there are a lot of things to be looked at in the future but many of those should be addressed by focussed, prospective, randomized comparative trials among a few institutions.
Don Trunkey asked about celiotomies and why a third were done following aortic repair. This is simply a description of what occurred and not why. I don't know how those patients were at the end of the aortic repair, if they went into shock or had other indications. I am also quite certain, without having the data, that when we have 50 institutions everyone has got a different trigger for when they are going to do a celiotomy today with all the nonoperative management business. So it would be really difficult to address such a question without a more focussed, possibly comparative trial.
Aurelio Rodriguez asked about cross-clamp times and the contribution of perioperative hypotension to paraplegia. Those data simply are not available. There was also some suggestion that perhaps closed head injury would be made worse by bypass. That was not apparent.
Gene Moore wondered about multiple organ insults and the advantages of unloading the heart with left heart bypass and the possibility of decreased visceral organ ischemic/reperfusion injury. We did not look specifically at organ failure scores. Others have suggested that indeed organ failure may be reduced by implementing distal aortic perfusion. That is clearly an area that should be investigated more fully in the future.
There were a couple of questions about range of cases. There was a range of one to 30. It was further asked about differences in results with high volume versus low volume institutions. The one way we looked at that issue was grouping institutions that had 10 or more cases compared with those that had less than 10 for both mortality and paraplegia. My suspicion was that we would see differences. But, in fact, we saw no differences in either mortality or paraplegia according to volume analyzed in this fashion in this particular study.
Brent Eastman asked about the aortic disruption at the diaphragm. I am not sure exactly what triggered the diagnosis. It was repaired rather than nonoperatively managed.
Again, the authors would like to thank the Association for the privilege of presenting the data, which were really produced by the Association, and the honor to conduct the trial. Thank you.
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