Flail Chest Following Failed Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation

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Following the death of a woman with blunt force chest trauma, the question was asked how common was the finding at autopsy of a flail chest in decedents after failed cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It was suggested in court that this was an uncommon occurrence. To address this issue, autopsy cases in adults (>18 years) with rib fractures attributable to cardiopulmonary resuscitation were taken from the files of Forensic Science SA over a 7-year period from 2008 to 2014. Flail chest injuries were defined as those arising from fractures at two sites in at least three consecutive ribs. From 236 cases with rib fractures attributed to resuscitation, a total of 43 flail chest injuries were found in 35 cases (14.8%). The majority occurred in the 60-79-year-old age group. These data suggest that flail chest injuries are a more common sequelae of cardiopulmonary resuscitation than has been previously appreciated in autopsy cases, particularly in the elderly.

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