The internal mammary vessels have been recommended as the first choice recipient vessels for delayed breast reconstruction with the free TRAM flap. This approach has avoided surgery in the previously operated axilla, has required a shorter pedicle length, and has allowed for more medial placement of the TRAM tissue. Frequency of nonusable axillary vessels has been reported at 11 percent, with a 6 percent incidence of flap loss in the delayed reconstructive setting. We reviewed our experience with the thoracodorsal vessels as recipient vessels in delayed free TRAM breast reconstruction to assess more accurately the adequacy of these potential recipient vessels. All patients undergoing delayed TRAM reconstruction were reviewed. Forty-seven of 300 consecutive TRAM procedures were for planned delayed free reconstruction. In seven of the patients (15 percent), the thoracodorsal vessels were found to be inadequate for free reconstruction. A supercharged pedicled TRAM was used for reconstruction in each of these seven patients. Average operating room time was 7 hours. Mean follow-up time was 38 months. Nineteen percent of all patients developed at least one complication. Twelve percent of free TRAM patients developed a complication, whereas 57 percent of supercharged patients developed a postoperative complication. The difference in complication rates was statistically significant. The thoracodorsal vessels have provided an adequate recipient vessel in 85 percent of delayed free TRAM reconstructions, comparable to previous reports. Pedicling and supercharging the flap, in those situations in which the thoracodorsal vessels were inadequate, were associated with an increased incidence of postoperative complications. This suggests that in the delayed reconstructive setting, higher-risk patients benefit from free reconstruction over supercharged reconstructions. A second recipient vessel should be used when the thoracodorsal vessels are inadequate for planned free TRAM reconstruction. In these circumstances, we would recommend the use of the internal mammary vessels followed by the thoracoacromial vessels as reliable alternative recipient sites for delayed free TRAM reconstruction.
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