Emergency department thoracotomy (EDT) is a rare and potentially life-saving intervention performed for trauma patients in extremis. EDT is rare at Canadian trauma centres because of our infrequent occurrence of penetrating trauma. This study was undertaken to evaluate outcomes at a Canadian level 1 trauma facility and compare survival to large published datasets. Also, we evaluated the appropriateness of an EDT performed at our centre based on published national guidelines.
Retrospective medical record review of all patients undergoing an EDT during their resuscitation in the emergency department. Records were identified using our trauma registry, and all charts were manually reviewed. The primary outcome was survival to hospital discharge.
Over a 20-year period, 58 EDTs were performed with 6 (10.3%) survivors. Patients undergoing an EDT secondary to penetrating trauma had the highest survival (5 of 24 patients or 20.8% survival) compared to patients undergoing an EDT for blunt trauma (1 of 34 patients or 2.9% survival). Patients undergoing an EDT who had not suffered cardiac arrest represented the group with the highest survival rate (3 of 6 patients or 50% survival). The majority of EDTs (79.3%) were indicated, and no patient undergoing an EDT survived if it was performed outside of published guidelines.
Survival following an EDT in our small, regional trauma centre is consistent with survival rates from larger published datasets. An EDT should continue to be performed under accepted clinical indications.