Penetrating wounds of the heart and great vessels : a new therapeutic approach

Knott-Craig, C. J. ; Przybojewski, J. Z. ; Barnard, P. M. (1982-08)

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A series of 36 Black and Coloured patients, presenting during a 1-year period with life-endangering intrathoracic trauma secondary to assault, is presented. Penetrating wounds of the heart were documented in 32 of these patients, 6 of whom died almost immediately after having been brought into the Resuscitation Unit of Tygerberg Hospital, Parowvallei, CP. The remaining 26 patients had clinical features of cardiac tamponade and circulatory collapse, and in 4 of these patients an emergency thoracotomy was performed in the Resuscitation Unit as it was considered inadvisable to delay surgery until theatre had been arranged. Three of the latter 4 were discharged home completely recovered. Total peri-operative mortality was 13.3%, most deaths being due to lacerations of the left ventricle. Penetrating wounds of the ventricles accounted for some 85% of the total cardiac lacerations; other lacerations affected the pulmonary artery and its branches, the aorta, left atrium and internal thoracic artery. The incision most frequently employed at surgery was a median sternotomy (53%), followed by left thoracotomy (40%) and right thoracotomy (7%). Pre-operative emergency management based on pathophysiological principles is discussed. The fact that relatively inexperienced surgical registrars performed many of these operations with good results emphasizes the need for the establishment of resuscitation units in more peripheral hospitals where many of these patients could primarily be treated. These units would then be able to manage many of these patients, probably at an earlier stage than if they were referred to a teaching hospital such as Tygerberg.

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