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S Afr Med J. 2013 Jun 5;103(10):732-5. doi: 10.7196/samj.6769.

The versatility of median sternotomy in general paediatric surgery.

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Department of Paediatric Surgery, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.



While common in cardiac surgery, median sternotomy (MS) is rarely required in general paediatric surgery. In the era of advancing endoscopic techniques, sternotomy is perceived as an extremely invasive incision, associated with prolonged postoperative recovery and significant morbidity.


We conducted a retrospective chart review of all children undergoing MS for non-cardiac indications between January 2007 and September 2012 and describe the pathology, number of ventilated days, duration of intensive care unit stay and analgesic requirements.


Our experience over the past 6 years includes 14 children, aged between 8 months and 13 years. Indications for surgery included penetrating mediastinal trauma (1), anterior and posterior mediastinal masses (4), acquired tracheo-oesophageal fistulas secondary to button battery impaction (2), bronchial foreign bodies (2) and bilateral pulmonary metastases secondary to malignancy (5). The range of postoperative ventilation required was 0 - 34 days (median 1 day) and the range of duration of stay in the paediatric intensive care unit 1 - 39 days (median 4 days). Postoperative analgesia was provided with intravenous or oral paracetamol with or without the addition of morphine. All the children tolerated the procedure well with no sternotomy-related complications on follow-up.


This review highlights the variety of conditions in which MS provides unrivalled access to the mediastinum and how well the procedure is tolerated by the paediatric patient, and emphasises the importance of sternotomy being within the armamentarium of access techniques of the general paediatric surgeon.

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