For patients with postoperative pleural empyema, open window thoracostomy (OWT) is often necessary to prevent sepsis. Vacuum-assisted closure (VAC) is a well-known therapeutic option in wound treatment. The efficacy and safety of intrathoracal VAC therapy, especially in patients with pleural empyema with bronchial stump insufficiency or remain lung, has not yet been investigated.
Between October 2009 and July 2010, eight consecutive patients (mean age of 66.1 years) with multimorbidity received an OWT with VAC for the treatment of postoperative or recurrent pleural empyema. Two of them had a bronchial stump insufficiency (BPF).
VAC therapy ensured local control of the empyema and control of sepsis. The continuous suction up to 125 mm Hg cleaned the wound and thoracic cavity and supported the rapid healing. Additionally, installation of a stable vacuum was possible in the two patients with BPF. The smaller bronchus stump fistula closed spontaneously due to the VAC therapy, but the larger remained open.
The direct contact of the VAC sponge did not create any air leak or bleeding from the lung or the mediastinal structures. The VAC therapy allowed a better re-expansion of remaining lung.
One patient died in the late postoperative period (day 47 p.o.) of multiorgan failure. In three cases, VAC therapy was continued in an outpatient service, and in four patients, the OWT was treated with conventional wound care. After a mean time of three months, the chest wall was closed in five of seven cases. However, two patients rejected the closure of the OWT. After a follow-up at 7.7 months, neither recurrent pleural empyema nor BPF was observed.