The reconstruction of extremities in the presence of bone and muscle loss is a challenge.
Lost bone portions cause the form and function of a limb to be lost, and amputation is the final result in many cases.
In pediatric patients, reconstruction is more complex because of the size of the tissues involved.1
Whether because of trauma or resection secondary to tumors, this type of bone loss2–4 can be reconstructed with free bone flaps. However, when there is also associated loss of tissue, such as muscle or skin, the repair requires greater tissue contribution.
The long-term (10 years) outcome is presented for a 15-year-old male patient who suffered an accident involving a shotgun wound to the right arm, which led to bone, muscle, and skin loss. The patient was treated with a single surgery involving a combination of 2 flaps: fibula as a free bone flap and latissimus dorsi as a pedicled muscle flap.
This male patient was 15 years of age when he accidentally injured himself by firing a shotgun he was carrying when he slipped and fell. The pellets caused a large wound in the right arm with a medial entry hole and a superolateral exit hole, injuring the humerus, brachial biceps, coracobrachialis, triceps, and deltoids, as well as the internal and external cutaneous tissues. Despite the destructiveness of the wound, there was no significant vascular or nerve injury.
At admission, the fracture was stabilized with an external fixator, and multiple surgical cleanings and debridements were performed until a suitable area to perform reconstruction was obtained. During this time, the patient received antimicrobials (gentamycin and clindamycin), analgesics, and life support. Twenty days after admission, reconstructive surgery was performed. The tissue defect to be covered was 16 cm long by 5 cm wide in the anterior and lateral areas, and the bone loss was 7 cm (Fig. 1A).
The patient was placed in the left lateral decubitus position for dissection of the latissimus dorsi, which would serve to provide coverage to the bone flap and tissue support to the remainder of the arm because of adjacent muscle and skin loss.
Once dissected and subjected only to the vascular pedicle, the dorsal wound was sutured, and the muscle was tunneled toward the arm through the axilla (Fig. 1A).
The width of the dissected muscle was 16 cm at the distal portion and 10 cm in length from the vascular pedicle.
The patient was then placed in the supine position, and the right fibula was dissected to a length of 12 cm.
The fibula was transplanted to the arm, and the length was adjusted to 10 cm. The ends of the fibula were inserted into the medullary canal of the humerus, both distally and proximally, until stability was achieved.
Vascular anastomoses were then performed under microscopy with 9-0 nylon (the T-L peroneal artery with the brachial artery and the T-T peroneal vein with the brachial vein) (Fig. 1B).
Then, the latissimus dorsi muscle was placed on the arm to cover the bone and correct the bone defect. A mesh skin graft was placed on the muscle.
The humerus and the transplanted fibula were immobilized with an external fixator.
Postoperatively, the patient received antimicrobial treatment (cephalosporins), antiplatelet drugs (dextran and aspirin), and life support.
The postoperative evolution was uneventful, leading to hospital discharge 40 days after admission. The patient received postoperative rehabilitation and was reintegrated to activities of daily living.
The patient was reviewed 10 years after reconstruction. X-rays of the arm showed that the bone flap had adapted to the humerus with cortical thickening and medullary recanalization (Fig. 2). The reconstructed forelimb is 0.5 cm shorter than the left forelimb; however, the muscular strength is the same.
The function of the shoulder, arm, forearm, and hand is 100% preserved. (See Video 1, Supplemental Digital Content 1, which displays full mobility of the shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist, and fingers 10 years after surgery, http://links.lww.com/PRSGO/A233.)
The use of free flaps in children is common; its success rate is higher than in adults, and there are fewer complications.
The technical difficulties presented by dissection of flaps because of their size and vascular structures are offset by the extraordinary and rapid recovery of these patients after undergoing complex surgeries.5,6
In this case, the transplanted fibula grew in line with the bodily growth of the patient; it increased its volume and even rechanneled the medullary canal with the receiving humerus. The muscle that provided coverage atrophied but also grew at the same normal rate as the patient’s other tissues without scarring retractions.
Surprisingly, this patient did not have significant vascular or nerve injuries despite the destructiveness of his wound, a factor that undoubtedly allowed full recovery.
At 25 years of age, the patient currently lives in a rural community, performing fieldwork and even playing soccer. There are no functional sequelae in the donor areas of the fibula in his right leg or the latissimus dorsi in the thorax.
In this case, the recovery of the full function of the arm, forearm, and hand, as well as the absence of functional sequelae in donor areas, confirms that in the long term, reconstructions with free bone and muscular flaps are safe and functional in the pediatric population. (See Video 1, Supplemental Digital Content 1, which displays full mobility of the shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist, and fingers 10 years after surgery, http://links.lww.com/PRSGO/A233.)
The patient provided written consent for the use of his image.
1. Van Beek AL, Wavak PW, Zook EG. Microvascular surgery in young children. Plast Reconstr Surg. 1979;63:457462.
2. Erdmann D, Garcia RM, Blueschke G, et al. Vascularized fibula-based physis transfer for pediatric proximal humerus reconstruction. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2013;132:281e287e.
3. Rinker B, Valerio IL, Stewart DH, et al. Microvascular free flap reconstruction in pediatric lower extremity trauma: a 10-year review. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2005;115:16181624.
4. Clemens MW, Chang EI, Selber JC, et al. Composite extremity and trunk reconstruction with vascularized fibula flap in postoncologic bone defects: a 10-year experience. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2012;129:170178.
5. Upton J, Guo L, Labow BI. Pediatric free-tissue transfer. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2009;124(6 Suppl):e313e326.
6. Upton J, Guo L. Pediatric free tissue transfer: a 29-year experience with 433 transfers. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2008;121:17251737.