Emergency thoracotomy: Appropriate use in the resuscitation of trauma patients

Christopher A. Grove, Gary Lemmon, Gary Anderson, Mary McCarthy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

31 Scopus citations


The objective of this study was to evaluate the use of emergency thoracotomy in our institution in an effort to determine whether this procedure is both beneficial and cost effective in blunt and/or penetrating trauma. We conducted a retrospective review of charts and coroner's reports. Our setting was a Level I trauma center in a tertiary-care facility. We examined the cases of trauma patients presenting to the trauma center over a 2-year period. Of 2490 patients who presented to the emergency department over the study period 41 underwent early thoracotomy. Twelve of these were excluded from the study because their cases were not truly emergent. Of the remaining 29 ten were admitted for penetrating injuries and 19 for blunt injuries. The average Injury Severity Scores for penetrating and blunt injuries were 30 and 40 respectively. There were four blunt trauma patients who died in the emergency department, 15 went to the operating room, and five who survived to go to the intensive care unit. All blunt trauma patients requiring emergency thoracotomy died within 9 days of presentation. Of the ten penetrating wound patients two died in the emergency department, four died in the operating room, and four went to the intensive care unit after surgery. One of the four patients who went to the intensive care unit died approximately 6 days after injury. The other three patients survived and are now living normal productive lives. All survivors of penetrating trauma who required emergency thoracotomy had their procedure performed in the operating room. Overall survival rates for penetrating and blunt trauma were 30 and O per cent respectively. Pericardial tamponade was found in 50 per cent of the penetrating trauma patients (two of the three survivors) and four of 19 of the blunt trauma patients. This reinforces the importance of a prompt pericardiotomy upon opening the chest. At our institution the algorithm for emergency thoracotomy is liberal and is not cost effective for blunt trauma. We need to re-evaluate our decision-making process concerning the use of emergency thoracotomy especially in the blunt trauma patient. The review also shows the importance of pericardiotomy when performing an emergency thoracotomy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-316
Number of pages4
JournalAmerican Surgeon
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery

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    Grove, C. A., Lemmon, G., Anderson, G., & McCarthy, M. (2002). Emergency thoracotomy: Appropriate use in the resuscitation of trauma patients. American Surgeon, 68(4), 313-316.