J Reconstr Microsurg 2013; 29(09): 607-614
DOI: 10.1055/s-0033-1354739
Original Article
Thieme Medical Publishers 333 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001, USA.

Free Tissue Transfer in Patients with Severe Peripheral Arterial Disease: Functional Outcome in Reconstruction of Chronic Lower Extremity Defects

Jonas Kolbenschlag
1   Department of Plastic Surgery, Burn Center, BG University Clinic Bergmannsheil, Bochum, Germany
Susanne Hellmich
2   Department of Plastic, Hand and Reconstructive Surgery, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany
Günter Germann
3   Department of Aesthetic and Preventive Medicine, Ethianum Clinic for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Heidelberg, Germany
Kai Megerle
4   Clinic for Plastic Surgery and Hand Surgery, Klinikum rechts der Isar, Technical University of Munich, Munich, Germany
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

01 March 2013

20 July 2013

Publication Date:
09 September 2013 (online)


Chronic wounds of the lower extremity are difficult to treat, especially in patients with peripheral arterial disease (PAD). This patient population frequently suffers from multiple comorbidities, which further impairs wound healing. Local flaps are often not available, or are insufficient to cover these defects, and limbs are frequently amputated, although they could possibly be salvaged by free tissue transplantation. Although there is a growing evidence that free tissue transfer may be feasible in these patients with otherwise doomed extremities, previous studies have mostly focused on short-term flap survival, but not long-term ambulatory status and independence. Therefore, we investigated the long-term results of limb salvage, ambulatory status, and social independence in patients with PAD who underwent free tissue transfer for chronic wounds of the lower extremities.

In this study we retrospectively reviewed 38 patients who underwent free tissue transfer because of nontraumatic, chronic wounds of the lower extremities at our institution. All patients suffered from a nontraumatic occlusion of at least one major lower leg artery verified by angiography. After a mean time period of 34 months we assessed flap survival and limb preservation as well as pre- and postoperative ambulatory status and social independence. A subgroup of 14 patients with a “single-vessel-leg” was evaluated separately.

It was observed that anterolateral thigh and latissimus dorsi musculocutaneous flaps were most often used to cover the defects. Overall 29 out of the 38 flaps healed completely (9 flap failures) and 34 extremities were salvaged, including 12 out of 14 single-vessel-legs. One patient had to be amputated despite a vital free flap because of persistent calcaneal osteomyelitis. After failure of free tissue transfer, six extremities could still be salvaged by secondary procedures (two secondary free flaps, two local flaps, and two skin grafts). Total 22 out of 34 patients with salvaged limbs maintained or improved their ambulatory status. In the amputee group, two patients remained on their preoperative level of mobility, while two declined. All patients with amputated limbs required assistance in activities of daily living while this was only true for 4 out of the 34 remaining patients.

It was concluded that free tissue transfer is a valid option for salvaging lower extremities in patients with PAD. Long-term limb salvage can be achieved in a high percentage of cases, which allows the patients to ambulate freely and remain socially independent.

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