Advances in free-tissue transfer have allowed for lower limb salvage in patients with significant peripheral vascular disease and limb-threatening soft-tissue wounds. The authors retrospectively reviewed their 10-year experience with free flaps for limb salvage in patients with peripheral vascular disease to assess postoperative complication rates and long-term functional outcome. They identified all patients undergoing free-tissue transfer with significant peripheral vascular disease and otherwise unreconstructible soft-tissue defects. Charts were reviewed for perioperative and long-term outcome. Parameters studied included perioperative morbidity and mortality flap success, bypass graft patency, ambulatory results, and long-term limb and patient survival. Survival data were analyzed using life-table analysis, Kaplan-Meier survival analysis, and Cox testing. A total of 79 flaps were examined in 75 patients with peripheral vascular disease from July of 1990 to November of 1999. All patients would have required a major amputation had free-tissue transfer not been performed. Mean age was 60 years, average hospital stay was 32 days, and perioperative mortality was 5 percent. Within the first 30 days after operation, there were four cases of primary flap loss, and another two were lost as the result of bypass graft failure (8 percent); five of these cases resulted in amputation. There were no primary flap failures after 30 days. Follow-up ranged to 91 months (mean, 24 months). During this time, another 14 limbs were lost, most commonly because of progressive gangrene and/or infection in sites remote from the still-viable free flap. Using Kaplan-Meier survival analysis, 5-year flap survival was 77 percent, limb salvage 63 percent, and patient survival 67 percent. Sixty-six percent of patients were able to ambulate independently with the use of their reconstructed limb at least 1 year after hospital discharge, although some of these later went on to amputation. Free-tissue transfer for lower extremity reconstruction can be performed with acceptable morbidity and mortality in patients with peripheral vascular disease. Flap loss is low, and limb salvage, ambulation, and long-term survival rates in these patients are excellent.
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