Complex pleural empyema can be safely treated with vacuum-assisted closure
BACKGROUND Recurrent thoracic empyema in the presence of residual lung tissue can be treated with an open window thoracostomy (OWT). Vacuum-assisted closure (VAC) of these large thoracic defects is a novel option. METHODS Nineteen patients with residual lung tissue received an OWT for treatment of recurrent thoracic empyema. In this retrospective case series, 8 patients (aged 58 +/- 20 years, all male) were treated conventionally, and 11 patients (aged 53 +/- 17 years, 8 male) were treated with VAC. RESULTS The application of the VAC system resulted in rapid debridement of the thoracic cavity and reexpansion of the residual lung tissue. The duration of OWT and VAC therapy was 39 +/- 17 and 31 +/- 19 days, respectively. All 11 patients were amenable for subsequent closure using pedicled muscular flaps. In 2 patients, VAC therapy alone resulted in complete closure of the OWT. The average duration of follow-up was 46 +/- 19 months. All patients, except 1, have recovered well. One patient died of nonpulmonary causes. In the non-VAC group (n = 8), the OWT was managed conventionally by application of saline-soaked gauzes. In 2 patients, the OWT was eventually closed using pedicled muscular flaps (after 75 and 440 days, respectively). Four patients died of OWT-related complications (1 bleeding, 3 recurrent infections) during follow-up; 1 patient died of a cause unrelated to OWT. The average duration of OWT was 933 +/- 1,422 days. CONCLUSIONS When compared with conventional management of OWT, VAC therapy accelerates wound healing and improves reexpansion of residual lung tissue in patients with OWT after empyema, allowing rapid surgical closure.