Efficacy of emergency room thoracotomy in pediatric trauma

Bonnie L. Beaver, Paul M. Colombani, James R. Buck, David L. Dudgeon, Stuart L. Bohrer, J. Alex Haller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


With improved rapid transportation systems, an increasing number of children may arrive at the emergency room (ER) without detectable vital signs and may undergo vigorous resuscitation, including emergency room thoracotomy, aortic cross clamping, and open cardiac massage. Of 1,287 pediatric trauma admissions between 1980 and 1985, 101 deaths were recorded. Fifty (50%) of the deaths occurred in the ER. Thirty-three of the patients were pronounced dead with obvious irreversible injuries, while 17 (34%) with suspected thoracoabdominal injuries underwent ER thoracotomy during resuscitation. None of the 17 patients had detectable vital signs upon arrival to the ER. Fifteen patients had multisystem injuries associated with blunt trauma and two with isolated penetrating injuries. Despite maximal conventional resuscitation and ER thoracotomy, none of the 17 patients survived. In this group of pediatric blunt trauma victims who appear initially salvageable, and present in the ER with no detectable vital signs, ER resuscitative thoracotomy did not influence survival. ER thoracotomy in children, therefore, should be reserved for patients presenting with (1) penetrating thoracic injuries or (2) blunt injuries associated with detectable vital signs and deterioration despite maximal conventional therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-23
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of pediatric surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1987
Externally publishedYes


  • Emergency room (ER) resuscitative thoracotomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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