Color Doppler Ultrasound: Effective Monitoring of the Buried Free Flap in Facial Reanimation

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Abstract

Objective.

The gracilis muscle free flap has become a reliable means for smile reanimation for patients with facial paralysis. Because it is a buried flap, it presents a postoperative monitoring challenge. We sought to evaluate our experience with color Doppler ultrasound in the monitoring of gracilis free flap viability in the immediate postoperative setting.

Study Design.

Case series with planned data collection.

Setting.

Tertiary medical center.

Methods.

Patients with facial paralysis treated with gracilis muscle free flap for smile reanimation performed between March 2009 and November 2010 were evaluated by color Doppler ultrasound and included in the study. Our experience with the use of the color Doppler ultrasound to monitor the gracilis muscle flap is presented.

Results.

Forty-six patients were identified. In all cases, color Doppler ultrasound was used postoperatively to assess flow through the vascular pedicle. Outcomes included an early flap survival rate of 100%, with no instances of equivocal or absent flow on either the arterial or venous side. Color Doppler ultrasound provided important objective information regarding muscle perfusion postoperatively in several instances of equivocal postoperative perfusion of the flap.

Conclusion.

Color Doppler ultrasound is a safe, noninvasive method that can be performed serially to evaluate a buried free flap. We have had success in verifying normal arterial and venous flow through the pedicle using this method of monitoring of the gracilis muscle free flap during facial reanimation, and in 3 instances, it eliminated the need for wound exploration to verify appropriate muscle perfusion.

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