The use of microvascular tissue transfer as an adjunct to arterial reconstruction has begun to have a positive impact on limb salvage in patients with advanced arteriosclerosis and nonhealing ischemic wounds. However, many patients with severe peripheral vascular insufficiency not amenable to conventional arterial reconstructive procedures eventually require limb amputation.
We have treated 12 patients with advanced peripheral vascular disease and nonhealing ischemic wounds by three different methods. These included distal bypass alone, distal bypass done in conjunction with free-tissue transfer, and free-tissue transfer alone. All bypass grafts were done to vessels at or below the ankle using a reversed saphenous vein. In each case, the distal anastomosis was performed, using the operating microscope and standard microvascular technique. Mean follow-up for these patients is 18 months.
Distal bypass alone resulted in limb salvage in three of five patients. In the combined bypass and free-flap group, three of five patients had salvage of their threatened extremity at a 1-year follow-up. Two patients with ischemic ulcers, rest pain, and unsuitable distal vessels for bypass were treated with free-tissue transfer alone. This resulted in healed wounds, limb salvage, and complete resolution of the rest pain symptoms in both patients.
When advanced ischemia is complicated by large areas of tissue loss, combined bypass and microvascular free-tissue transfer, performed in stages or simultaneously, is safe and can often result in limb salvage. In the rare instance of a completely obliterated distal runoff bed, free-tissue transfer alone may provide not only a healed wound, but also a means of “indirect” revascularization of the extremity and limb salvage.