Prospective Randomized Trial of Standard Left Anterolateral Thoracotomy Versus Modified Bilateral Clamshell Thoracotomy Performed by Emergency Physicians

Ryan Newberry, Derek Brown, Thomas Mitchell, Joseph K. Maddry, Allyson A. Arana, Jennifer Achay, Stephen Rahm, Brit Long, Tyson Becker, Gareth Grier, Gareth Davies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Study objective: Resuscitative thoracotomy is a time-sensitive, lifesaving procedure that may be performed by emergency physicians. The left anterolateral thoracotomy (LAT) is the standard technique commonly used in the United States to gain rapid access to critical intrathoracic structures. However, the smaller incision and subsequent limited exposure may not be optimal for the nonsurgical specialist to complete time-sensitive interventions. The modified bilateral anterior clamshell thoracotomy (MCT) developed by Barts Health NHS Trust clinicians at London's Air Ambulance overcomes these inherent difficulties, maximizes thoracic cavity visualization, and may be the ideal technique for the nonsurgical specialist. The aim of this study is to identify the optimal technique for the nonsurgical-specialist-performed resuscitative thoracotomy. Secondary aims of the study are to identify technical difficulties, procedural concerns, and physician preferences. Methods: Emergency medicine staff and senior resident physicians were recruited from an academic Level I trauma center. Subjects underwent novel standardized didactic and skills-specific training on both the MCT and LAT techniques. Later, subjects were randomized to the order of intervention and performed both techniques on separate fresh, nonfrozen human cadaver specimens. Success was determined by a board-certified surgeon and defined as complete delivery of the heart from the pericardial sac and subsequent 100% occlusion of the descending thoracic aorta with a vascular clamp. The primary outcome was time to successful completion of the resuscitative thoracotomy technique. Secondary outcomes included successful exposure of the heart, successful descending thoracic aortic cross clamping, successful procedural completion, time to exposure of the heart, time to descending thoracic aortic cross-clamp placement, number and type of iatrogenic injuries, correct anatomic structure identification, and poststudy participant questionnaire. Results: Sixteen emergency physicians were recruited; 15 met inclusion criteria. All participants were either emergency medicine resident (47%) or emergency medicine staff (53%). The median number of previously performed training LATs was 12 (interquartile range 6 to 15) and the median number of previously performed MCTs was 1 (interquartile range 1 to 1). The success rates of our study population for the MCT and LAT techniques were not statistically different (67% versus 40%; difference 27%; 95% confidence interval –61% to 8%). However, staff emergency physicians were significantly more successful with the MCT compared with the LAT (88% versus 25%; difference 63%; 95% CI 9% to 92%). Overall, the MCT also had a significantly higher proportion of injury-free trials compared with the LAT technique (33% versus 0%; difference 33%; 95% CI 57% to 9%). Physician procedure preference favored the MCT over the LAT (87% versus 13%; difference 74%; 95% CI 23% to 97%). Conclusion: Resuscitative thoracotomy success rates were lower than expected in this capable subject population. Success rates and procedural time for the MCT and LAT were similar. However, the MCT had a higher success rate when performed by staff emergency physicians, resulted in less periprocedural iatrogenic injuries, and was the preferred technique by most subjects. The MCT is a potentially feasible alternative resuscitative thoracotomy technique that requires further investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-326
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of emergency medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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