Seventy-two patients with Gustilo grade IIIB open tibial fractures were treated with free-tissue transfers. If successful free-tissue transfer for soft-tissue reconstruction is performed within 15 days of injury, the risk of major complications is 3.6 percent. Long-term retrospective follow-up (mean 42 months) revealed successful limb salvage in 93 percent, good aesthetic results in 80 percent, and patient satisfaction in 96 percent. However, 66 percent of patients exhibited significantly decreased range of motion of the ankle, 44 percent experienced swelling and edema requiring elastic support and activity modification, and 50 percent occasionally required an assistance device for ambulation. The long-term employment rate was 28 percent, and no patient returned to work after 2 years of unemployment. In contrast, 68 percent of amputees after lower extremity trauma over the same period returned to work within 2 years. Patients need to realize the disruptive nature of this injury on their family, job, and future.
©1992American Society of Plastic Surgeons