Evacuation Strategies for U.S. Casualties with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) with and without Polytrauma

Maj C. Patrick, Allyson A. Araña, Shelia C. Savell, Maj William T. Davis, Julie Cutright, Crystal A. Perez, Col Vikhyat S. Bebarta, Joseph K. Maddry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: According to the Military Health System Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Center of Excellence, 51,261 service members suffered moderate to severe TBI in the last 21 years. Moderate to severe TBI in service members is usually related to blast injury in combat operations, which necessitates medical evacuation to higher levels of care. Prevention of secondary insult, and mitigation of the unique challenges associated with the transport of TBI patients in a combat setting are important in reducing the morbidity and mortality associated with this injury. The primary goal of this study was a secondary analysis comparing the impact of time to transport on clinical outcomes for TBI patients without polytrauma versus TBI patients with polytrauma transported out of the combat theater via Critical Care Air Transport Teams (CCATT). Our secondary objective was to describe the occurrence of in-flight events and interventions for TBI patients without polytrauma versus TBI with polytrauma to assist with mission planning for future transports. Materials and Methods: We performed a secondary analysis of a retrospective cohort of 438 patients with TBI who were evacuated out of theater by CCATT from January 2007 to May 2014. Polytrauma was defined as abbreviated injury scale (AIS) of at least three to another region in addition to head/neck. Time to transport was defined as the time (in days) from injury to CCATT evacuation out of combat theater. We calculated descriptive statistics and examined the associations between time to transport and preflight characteristics, in-flight interventions and events, and clinical outcomes for TBI patients with and without polytrauma. Results: We categorized patients into two groups, those who had a TBI without polytrauma (n = 179) and those with polytrauma (n = 259). Within each group, we further divided those that were transported within 1 day of injury, in 2 days, and 3 or more days. Patients with TBI without polytrauma transported in 1 or 2 days were more likely to have a penetrating injury, an open head injury, a preflight Glascow Coma Score (GCS) of 8 or lower, and be mechanically ventilated compared to those transported later. Patients without polytrauma who were evacuated in 1 or 2 days required more in-flight interventions compared to patients without polytrauma evacuated later. Patients with polytrauma who were transported in 2 days were more likely to receive blood products, and patients with polytrauma who were evacuated within 1 day were more likely to have had at least one episode of hypotension en route. Polytrauma patients who were evacuated in 2–3 days had higher hospital days compared to polytrauma with earlier evacuations. There was no significant difference in mortality between any of the groups. Conclusions: In patients with moderate to severe TBI transported via CCATT, early evacuation was associated with a higher rate of in-flight hypotension in polytrauma patients. Furthermore, those who had TBI without polytrauma that were evacuated in 1–2 days received more in-flight supplementary oxygen, blood products, sedatives, and paralytics. Given the importance of minimizing secondary insults in patients with TBI, recognizing this in this subset of the population may help systematize ways to minimize such events. Traumatic Brain Injury patients with polytrauma may benefit from further treatment and stabilization in theater prior to CCATT evacuation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E1468-E1472
JournalMilitary medicine
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - Jul 1 2023
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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