Rib fracture fixation in a South African public trauma service
Background: Rib fractures and flail chests have traditionally been treated nonoperatively. Current literature suggests that it is not only safe and feasible but also desirable to perform fixation of severe rib fractures. Our unit in the Pietermaritzburg public sector adopted rib fracture fixation in 2014 and in this audit we assess its feasibility in our setting.
Methods and Results: We audited our first nine cases of rib fracture fixation performed to date, of which seven were males. The age range was 29 to 67 years. All patients had multiple rib fractures with severe displacement; one had bilateral flail segments and one had severely displaced unilateral single fractures without flail; all others had unilateral flail chests. Time from injury to operation ranged from 3 to 20 days. Of six ventilator dependent patients, all but one were liberated from the ventilator within 3 days after fixation (1–3 days). The remaining patient remained ventilator dependent for 10 days while recovering from traumatic brain injury. This patient aside, all were discharged from ICU within 5 days. Patients with no other significant injuries were discharged from hospital within five to eight days; all being mobile within five days. Procedure-related complications included accidental pleural breach during rib mobilization necessitating intercostal drain placement (2 patients) and superficial wound infection (1 patient). All patients were discharged well.
Conclusion: Rib fracture fixation is safe and feasible in our unit and is feasible in the South African public sector.
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