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J Card Surg. 2008 May-Jun;23(3):227-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-8191.2008.00595.x.

Experience with Vacuum-assisted closure of sternal wound infections following cardiac surgery and evaluation of chronic complications associated with its use.

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Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, St Thomas' Hospital, London, UK.



We report our experience in use of Vacuum-assisted closure therapy (VAC) in the treatment of poststernotomy wound infection with emphasis on recurrent wound-related problems after use of VAC and their treatment.


Between July 2000 and June 2003, 2706 patients underwent various cardiac procedures via median sternotomy. Forty-nine patients with postoperative sternal wound infection (1.9%) were managed with VAC. Wounds were classified as either superficial sternal wound infection (28 patients) or deep sternal wound infection (21 patients). In the superficial sternal wound infection group, 23 patients had VAC as definitive treatment (GroupA), while five patients (Group B) had VAC followed by surgical closure. Similarly, in the deep sternal wound infection group, 12 patients had VAC as definitive treatment (Group C), while nine patients had VAC followed by surgical closure (Group D). Patients were discharged after satisfactory wound closure. Upon discharge patients were followed up at interval of three to six months. Recurrent sternal problems when identified were investigated and additional surgical procedures were carried out when necessary.


There were nine deaths, all due to unrelated causes except in one patient who died of right ventricular rupture (Group C). Nine patients in Group A had recurrent wound problems of which six had VAC system for > 21 days. Three patients underwent extensive debridement due to sternal osteomyelitis. All eight patients in Group B presented with chronic wound-related problems and underwent multiple debridements. Four patients had laparoscopic omental flaps. In contrast 14 patients (Group B and D) who were treated with shorter duration of VAC followed by either a flap or direct surgical closure, did not present with recurrent problems.


VAC therapy is a safe and reliable option in the treatment of sternal wound infection. However, prolonged use of VAC system as a replacement for surgical closure of sternal wound appears to be associated with recurrent problems of the sternal wound. Strategy of use of VAC for a short duration followed by early surgical closure appears favorable.

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