Successful Reinnervation of the Diaphragm After Intercostal to Phrenic Nerve Neurotization in Patients With High Spinal Cord Injury

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Abstract

Objective

Our objective in this study was to extend diaphragmatic pacing therapy to include paraplegic patients with high cervical spinal cord injuries between C3 and C5.

Introduction

Diaphragmatic pacing has been used in patients experiencing ventilator-dependent respiratory failure due to spinal cord injury as a means to reduce or eliminate the need for mechanical ventilation. However, this technique relies on intact phrenic nerve function. Recently, phrenic nerve reconstruction with intercostal nerve grafting has expanded the indications for diaphragmatic pacing. Our study aimed to evaluate early outcomes and efficacy of intercostal nerve transfer in diaphragmatic pacing.

Methods

Four ventilator-dependent patients with high cervical spinal cord injuries were selected for this study. Each patient demonstrated absence of phrenic nerve function via external neck stimulation and laparoscopic diaphragm mapping. Each patient underwent intercostal to phrenic nerve grafting with implantation of a phrenic nerve pacer. The patients were followed, and ventilator dependence was reassessed at 1 year postoperatively.

Results

Our primary outcome was measured by the amount of time our patients tolerated off the ventilator per day. We found that all 4 patients have tolerated paced breathing independent of mechanical ventilation, with 1 patient achieving 24 hours of tracheostomy collar.

Conclusions

From this study, intercostal to phrenic nerve transfer seems to be a promising approach in reducing or eliminating ventilator support in patients with C3 to C5 high spinal cord injury.

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