May 1994

Rigid Internal Fixation of the Sternum in Postoperative Mediastinitis

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Surgery, University of Chicago (III) (Drs Gottlieb, Pielet, and Karp and Mr Krieger), and the Department of Surgery, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Drs Smith and Deeb).

Arch Surg. 1994;129(5):489-493. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1994.01420290035005

Objective:  The current standard treatment of mediastinitis following median sternotomy is radical sternal débridement and obliteration of anterior mediastinal dead space with muscle or omental flaps. This report describes and reviews our experiences with a new technique of sternal salvage based on osseous quantitative bacteriologic assessment and rigid fixation in patents with postoperative mediastinitis.

Design:  A retrospective review of 29 patients treated with sternal rigid internal fixation.

Setting:  Two tertiary care academic medical centers in Chicago, Ill, and Ann Arbor, Mich.

Patients:  Patients with postoperative mediastinitis following median sternotomy who underwent rigid internal fixation of retained sternum.

Intervention:  Following débridement, quantitative bacteriologic assessment and sternal vascularity were assessed. Sternal segments with good vascularity and in bacteriologic balance were anatomically reduced and rigidly fixed to each other with titanium miniplates in 24 patients with postoperative mediastinitis. Five of the 29 patients, at high risk for mediastinitis, underwent rigid internal fixation immediately after their cardiac procedure.

Main Outcome Measures:  Resolution of infection, wounds remaining closed, and stable sternums.

Results:  Bony union was obtained in 27 (93%) of 29 patients. The postoperative hospital stay ranged from 5 to 84 days, with a mean stay of 17 days and a median stay of 7 days. Length of stay was directly related to pulmonary function, which correlated with preoperative intubation status.

Conclusions:  Radical sternal débridement may not be necessary in all patients with postoperative mediastinitis following median sternotomy. Sternal salvage can safely and reliably be performed with a combination of clinical assessment of vascularity and osseous quantitative bacteriologic assessment. Anatomic reduction of the viable sternal segments is possible even in severely osteoporotic bone.(Arch Surg. 1994;129:489-493)