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Surgical Repair of Iatrogenic Cervical Tracheal Stenosis

      The advent of intensive care unit management has increased the potential opportunities for post intubation and post tracheostomy airway complications. Since the 1960s, research on the causes and prevention of these airway problems has diminished but not eliminated the problems.
      • Grillo H.C.
      Surgery of the Trachea and Bronchi.
      The most common problems associated with long-term intubation include laryngeal dysfunction and tracheal stenosis. Many variations are seen: stenosis at the site of tracheostomy, narrowing caused by granulation tissue, and tracheomalacia or stenosis at the level of the cuff. Proper attention to placement of the tracheostomy appliance and prevention of cuff overinflation are essential to prevent iatrogenic cervical tracheal stenosis. Human and animal studies have demonstrated that overinflation of the endotracheal tube can create circumferential full-thickness ischemic necrosis of the tracheal wall in a very short time. The subsequent healing of the ulcerated surface results in a circumferential stenosis. Improper placement or leverage of the tracheostomy appliance may result in partial erosion of a portion of the tracheal wall. This partial wall collapse and subsequent healing after the appliance is removed results in a triangular-shaped lesion. As these lesions are full thickness, and often circumferential, effective long-term treatment is accomplished by resection of the affected segment, or placement of an appliance to stent open the obstruction in nonsurgical candidates. In this article, we discuss the unique challenges of correcting cervical tracheal stenosis that do not directly affect the immediate subglottic region.

      Preoperative Evaluation

      A significant narrowing of the airway must exist before the development of dyspnea or stridor in patients with cervical tracheal stenosis. Once the patient becomes symptomatic, it is essential to ensure a stable and patent airway. This may be accomplished by intraoperative assessment and dilation of a focal stenosis by rigid bronchoscopy, or by replacement of the tracheostomy appliance while planning for a definitive procedure. Emergent operation of the trachea is to be avoided, as preoperative assessment and planning is essential to long-term success.
      Computed tomographic imaging is useful in defining the extent of the lesion and to rule out extrinsic compression from a goiter or other mass. Bronchoscopy remains the procedure of choice for preoperative evaluation. Vocal cord dysfunction should be assessed because repair of a tracheal stenosis is doomed to failure if upper airway motor dysfunction is not addressed. The precise location and length of the stenosis may be defined by bronchoscopy, as well as the degree of inflammation at the site of proposed repair.
      Reasons to defer operative management in favor of placing an airway appliance are extensive comorbidities that preclude the safe conduct of general anesthetic, overall deconditioning of the patient such as those who will remain dependent on the ventilator or those who are unable to participate in rehabilitation, and patients on high doses of steroids. In these patients, airway obstruction may be relieved by bronchoscopy and dilation, or replacement of the stoma appliance or a t-tube.

      Operative Technique

      Figure thumbnail gr1
      Figure 1The patient is positioned supine, with the neck slightly extended. An inflatable bag is placed under the shoulders to permit exposure. Calf compression devices are used, in addition to subcutaneous heparin injection, to prevent deep vein thrombosis. After the induction of general anesthesia, bronchoscopy is performed to investigate the airway and to determine the location and length of the stricture. Rigid bronchoscopy may be required to temporarily dilate the stricture to permit endotracheal tube placement. A small armored endotracheal tube (Tovell) may be necessary. Because of the difficulties in securing an airway in the anesthetized patient with tracheal stenosis, the surgeon must be prepared to perform a tracheostomy.
      The chest is prepped to facilitate sternal division should the need arise. A low collar incision is made.
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      Figure 2After the incision is made, skin flaps are created. The flaps extend laterally to the sternocleidomastoid, superiorly to the level of the cricoid cartilage, and inferiorly to the level of the sternal notch. The sternohyoid and sternothyroid muscles are identified and retracted laterally to identify the midline.
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      Figure 3The thyroid is dissected off the trachea and is often divided to expose the anterior surface of the trachea. The pretracheal plane is dissected as low as possible, as during the conduct of a cervical mediastinoscopy. Such a dissection facilitates tracheal mobility and exposure. Dissection should be conducted directly on the anterior surface of the tracheal wall to avoid injury to the recurrent laryngeal nerves, the esophagus, or vascular injury to the brachiocephalic artery. The use of electrocautery should be minimized.
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      Figure 4The trachea in an average adult is 10 to 11 cm in length. It comprises 18 to 22 cartilaginous rings. Throughout its length, the trachea receives arterial blood supply in a segmental pattern from lateral vascular stalks. Therefore, during the mobilization of the trachea, circumferential dissection is to be avoided for extended lengths. In the young adult patient, as much as 50% of the length of the trachea may be resected, and an anastomosis may be performed without excessive tension. The length of resection is more limited in small children and in older adults with less pliable and calcified tracheal cartilage. a. = artery.
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      Figure 5(A) The point of stenosis may not be readily evident on gross examination of the trachea. Puncture of the trachea with a small gauge needle while an assistant performs bronchoscopy with a pediatric bronchoscope will localize the point of stenosis. (B) Traction sutures are placed at the site of stenosis and the trachea is divided at the presumptive distal aspect of the stenosis.
      Figure thumbnail gr6
      Figure 6An armored (Tovell) endotracheal tube is inserted into the distal airway and ventilation is continued using a sterile ventilation circuit into the operative field. Once the trachea has been transected, it is easier to determine the true proximal and distal extent of the stenosis. Once the distal ventilation has been established, the oral endotracheal tube may be withdrawn a few centimeters to permit proximal dissection, but it should not be removed entirely. To facilitate reintubation, a heavy suture is placed in the distal end of the endotracheal tube. This stitch allows for downward traction and proper positioning of the endotracheal tube at the end of the procedure.
      Figure thumbnail gr7
      Figure 7Traction sutures are placed at the free edges of the cut trachea to facilitate retraction. The membranous trachea may then be safely dissected free of the esophagus, with minimal compromise of the lateral vascular pedicles, and with less risk to the recurrent laryngeal nerves. Complete mobilization along both the anterior and the posterior aspects of the trachea, well into the mediastinum, facilitates a tension-free anastomosis.
      Once the proximal extent of the stenosis is defined, further resection is performed. The surgeon should be judicious and conservative in the extent of resection. It is always possible to resect more trachea, if the initial excision is unsatisfactory. The goal is to resect diseased trachea, leaving vascular, nonstenotic margins that are free of inflammation. The extent of resection must be balanced by the need to maintain tracheal length.
      Figure thumbnail gr8
      Figure 8Once an adequate resection has been performed, the ease of tracheal reapproximation should be tested. (A) This is done by pulling the tracheal ends together using the lateral tracheal traction sutures, while the patient’s head is elevated by the anesthesiologist and the chin is flexed toward the chest wall. (B) Most resections allow a tension-free repair of the trachea if adequate anterior and posterior mobilization of the trachea has been performed. If the anastomosis is felt to be under excessive tension, a laryngeal release maneuver may be necessary. Both the thyrohyoid (Dedo) and the suprahyoid (Montgomery) maneuvers have been described to facilitate reconstruction of the upper and mid trachea. The suprahyoid release is associated with less risk of postoperative dysphagia and aspiration, and less risk of injury to the superior laryngeal nerve. An additional 1 to 2 cm of length may be gained with this maneuver. The authors have only rarely utilized this technique.
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      Figure 9To perform the suprahyoid release, a small transverse incision is made directly over the hyoid bone. The superior aspect of the hyoid bone is exposed, and the tendons of the mylohyoid, geniohyoid, and genioglossus are divided. (A) The dissection is carried laterally to the digastric muscle attachments to the hyoid, which is preserved. The hyoid is then divided on both sides of the digastric attachment. This maneuver drops the larynx down, and dissection is completed by dividing the suprahyoid membrane and entering the preepiglottic space. (B) The incision is then closed over a closed section drain.
      Figure thumbnail gr10
      Figure 10With the neck now in a degree of flexion, the membranous trachea is re-approximated. 3-0 Polyglactin stitches are used to approximate the junction of the membranous and cartilaginous portions of the two ends of the trachea. A 4-0 polydioxanone suture is then used to close the membranous trachea using a running stitch. Next, a series of 3-0 polyglactin sutures are used to close the cartilaginous portion of the trachea. All of the polyglactin sutures are placed and, before tying these stitches, the cross-table ventilation circuit is removed and the endotracheal tube is advanced. The previously placed traction stitch at the end of the endotracheal tube will assist the anesthesiologist in proper placement of the tube. The integrity of the anastomosis is assessed by deflating endotracheal tube cuff after irrigating the field with saline. The incision is then closed in multiple layers, after approximating the strap muscles.
      Figure thumbnail gr11
      Figure 11A heavy suture is then placed to guard against excessive extension of the neck in the postoperative period. The suture is passed from the submental skin to the presternal skin. The purpose of this stitch is not to hold the neck in flexion but to serve as a “reminder” to avoid unintentional hyperextension. This suture is removed in 1 week and residual stiffness in the neck will limit hyperextension for some additional days after suture removal.
      Patients are typically extubated at the end of the procedure. Careful observation for respiratory compromise is mandatory. The patient is kept NPO for 24 to 48 hours and cautiously started on a diet. The patient is monitored for evidence of aspiration. It has been our practice to perform fiberoptic bronchoscopy before discharge from the hospital.

      Conclusions

      A number of investigators for different countries have reported excellent results with resection of the cervical trachea for iatrogenic stenosis.
      • Amoros J.M.
      • Ramos R.
      • Villalonga R.
      • et al.
      Tracheal and cricotracheal resection for laryngotracheal stenosis: experience in 54 consecutive cases.
      • Rea F.
      • Callegaro D.
      • Loy M.
      • et al.
      Benign tracheal and laryngotracheal stenosis: surgical treatment and results.
      • Wright C.D.
      • Grillo H.C.
      • Wain J.C.
      • Wong D.R.
      • Donahue D.M.
      • Gaissert H.A.
      • Mathisen D.J.
      Anastomotic complications after tracheal resection: prognostic factors and management.
      In the largest series of 901 patients undergoing tracheal resection, 589 patients underwent surgery for postintubation tracheal stenosis.
      • Wright C.D.
      • Grillo H.C.
      • Wain J.C.
      • Wong D.R.
      • Donahue D.M.
      • Gaissert H.A.
      • Mathisen D.J.
      Anastomotic complications after tracheal resection: prognostic factors and management.
      Ninety-five percent of patients achieved a good response to treatment, without need for an airway appliance. The authors achieved a 1% mortality rate with a 9% rate of anastomotic complications. Complications occurred in the form of stenosis, separation of the suture line, or excessive granulation tissue at the site of anastomosis. Anastomotic complications were more likely in patients undergoing extended length resection (>4 cm), reoperation, preoperative dependence on tracheostomy, pediatric patients, and diabetic patients. Of the patients with anastomotic complications, most patients were treated by placement of an airway appliance.

      References

        • Grillo H.C.
        Surgery of the Trachea and Bronchi.
        BC Decker Inc, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada2003
        • Amoros J.M.
        • Ramos R.
        • Villalonga R.
        • et al.
        Tracheal and cricotracheal resection for laryngotracheal stenosis: experience in 54 consecutive cases.
        Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2006; 29: 35-39
        • Rea F.
        • Callegaro D.
        • Loy M.
        • et al.
        Benign tracheal and laryngotracheal stenosis: surgical treatment and results.
        Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2002; 22: 352-356
        • Wright C.D.
        • Grillo H.C.
        • Wain J.C.
        • Wong D.R.
        • Donahue D.M.
        • Gaissert H.A.
        • Mathisen D.J.
        Anastomotic complications after tracheal resection: prognostic factors and management.
        J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2004; 128: 731-739