Surgical Techniques

How to avoid major vessel injury during gynecologic laparoscopy

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Attention to anatomy, entry techniques, and operative devices can help avert serious injury. Also vital is a plan to manage potential complications.



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CASE: Abdominal entry leads to life-threatening injury

A 50-year-old woman with a BMI of 25 kg/m2, a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer, and a confirmed BRCA mutation was scheduled for prophylactic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy via robotic laparoscopy on November 26, 2009. At the time of the procedure, the gynecologic surgeon selected a site for the camera trocar that was several centimeters above the umbilicus. After making a transverse incision, he inserted a Veress needle and insufflated the abdomen with CO2 gas until intra-abdominal pressure reached 17 mm Hg. He then thrust an 11-inch disposable trocar through the anterior abdominal wall, attached the camera to the laparoscope, confirmed proper intraperitoneal placement, and inserted two additional trocars under direct vision.

Shortly after these actions, the anesthesiologist reported that the patient’s blood pressure had dropped precipitously, along with end tidal CO2. The surgeon examined the peritoneal cavity and discovered blood in the right paracolic gutter. The anesthesiologist advised the surgeon that he could no longer detect the patient’s blood pressure; electrocardiography revealed pulseless electrical activity.

The surgical team began chest compressions, evacuated the pneumoperitoneum, and removed all trocars. Blood was noted on the camera trocar, and the device was secured by the OR staff. The surgeon performed an emergent laparotomy, making the incision within 4 minutes of the beginning of CPR. Exploration revealed a large retroperitoneal hematoma above the area of the aortic bifurcation and inferior vena cava.

General and vascular surgeons were called. The general surgeon opened the retroperitoneum and found an extreme amount of clotted and unclotted blood. The vascular surgeon described the initial injury as a 1.5-cm laceration of the distal aorta, just above the bifurcation. A cell saver was requested and recorded blood loss of 12,000 mL.

The vascular surgeon clamped the aorta proximally; he also clamped both common iliac arteries. He then repaired the lacerations on the aorta using 5-0 Prolene suture (Ethicon). The aorta was significantly narrowed, however, so the surgeon decided to replace the distal aorta, which he then resected and repaired using a 14-mm Dacron graft (DuPont).

Further inspection revealed continuing retroperitoneal bleeding. The vascular surgeon found and repaired a laceration of the inferior mesenteric vein. He also clipped multiple small veins to stop bleeding.

When a hole in the transverse colon was identified, the general surgeon—who had left the operating table—rescrubbed to repair it. He also discovered an injury to the mesentery of the transverse colon and repaired both wounds, resecting the perforated segment. The divided, stapled colon was dropped back into the abdomen because the bowel was dusky. Despite an epinephrine drip, the patient was hypotensive and coagulopathic. The abdomen was packed and covered with sterile cassette film, with towels covering the open wound.

The patient was taken to the postanesthesia care unit in guarded condition and was subsequently transferred to the ICU, where her blood pressure dropped again. She was returned to the OR, where the packs were removed and a bleeding right common iliac artery was repaired using 5-0 Prolene suture. The next day, she underwent bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy with a transverse colon colostomy.

Because of the colon injury, the vascular surgeon believed that the Dacron graft had been contaminated. On December 1, the graft was taken down, a left femoral-vein autograft was harvested, and a reconstructive conduit was created for the terminal aorta. The patient underwent three additional procedures to place mesh into the abdominal wall. When the mesh became infected, it was removed.

The patient remained in the hospital for 1 month, after which she was transferred to a long-term care facility. She suffered permanent neurologic injuries because of prolonged hypoxia and continues to require supportive care.

How could this catastrophe have been avoided?

Traumatic injury to the great retroperitoneal vessels is an emergent and life-threatening event. During gynecologic laparoscopy, it is most likely to occur during entry into the anterior abdominal wall.

Most laparoscopic procedures require entry into the anterior abdominal wall for placement of a trocar and a sleeve that serves as a portal for insertion of the endoscope. Secondary ports provide entry points for manipulative and operative tools.

The most critical entry point is primary placement of the viewing device. Secondary trocars are always inserted under direct visualization; therefore, they carry a lower risk of inflicting injury to underlying viscera and vessels.

Practice safe entry


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