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Plast Reconstr Surg. 2000 Apr;105(4):1255-61.

The intercostal to phrenic nerve transfer: an effective means of reanimating the diaphragm in patients with high cervical spine injury.

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Department of Surgery, UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles, Calif 90095, USA.


Nerve transfers have been well described for the treatment of congenital and traumatic injuries in the brachial plexus and extremities. This series is the first to describe nerve transfers to reanimate the diaphragm in patients confined to long-term positive pressure ventilation because of high cervical spine injury. Patients who have sustained injury to the spinal cord at the C3 to C5 level suffer axonal loss in the phrenic nerve. They can neither propagate a nerve stimulus nor respond to implanted diaphragmatic pacing devices (electrophrenic respiration). Ten nerve transfers were performed in six patients who met these conditions. The procedures used end-to-end anastomoses from the fourth intercostal to the phrenic nerve approximately 5 cm above the diaphragm. A phrenic nerve pacemaker was implanted as part of the procedure and was placed distal to the anastomosis. Each week, the pacemaker was activated to test for diaphragmatic response. Once diaphragm movement was documented, diaphragmatic pacing was instituted. Eight of the 10 transfers have had more than 3 months to allow for axonal regeneration. Of these, all eight achieved successful diaphragmatic pacing (100 percent). The average interval from surgery to diaphragm response to electrical stimulation was 9 months. All patients were able to tolerate diaphragmatic pacing as an alternative to positive pressure ventilation, as judged by end tidal CO2 values, tidal volumes, and patient comfort. Intercostal to phrenic nerve transfer with diaphragmatic pacing is a viable means of liberating patients with high cervical spine injury from long-term mechanical ventilation.

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