Fatal Case of Tension Pneumothorax and Subcutaneous Emphysema After Open Surgical Tracheostomy

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Tracheostomy tube placement remains one of the most commonly performed procedures in the intensive care unit. Its utilization permits ventilation in patients with severe compromise of the airway patency as well as facilitation of liberation of mechanical ventilation in patients with prolonged ventilatory needs. Despite its frequent use, the tracheostomy procedure, whether performed surgically or percutaneously, is not free of severe, and, in some cases devastating, complications. In fact, severe adverse events, such as pneumomediastinum, pneumothorax, hemorrhage, infections, and, occasionally, death, have been described. We report a case of a surgical tracheostomy complicated with fatal tension pneumothorax and subcutaneous emphysema secondary to an iatrogenic posterior tracheal wall laceration. This complication is barely seen in usual practice, and its recognition and aggressive therapy may avoid fatal outcomes.

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