Is Head and Neck Free Flap Reconstruction Feasible in Jehovah's Witness Patients?

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Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery


Background: Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) population are members of a religious group that refuses blood transfusion. This presents a dilemma for surgical teams when performing major surgical procedures on these patients. Purpose: This study aimed to assess the safety and feasibility of undergoing microvascular free flaps for maxillofacial reconstruction in JW patients and whether the type of underlying pathology impacts outcomes. Study Design, Setting, and Sample: This was a multi-institutional retrospective cohort study. The sample consisted of all JW patients who have undergone microvascular free tissue transfer for maxillofacial pathology between January 2016 and January 2021. Predictor Variable: The primary predictor variable was the underlying pathology for which patients underwent head and neck free flap reconstruction; this was benign versus malignant disease. Main Outcome Variables: The primary outcome variables were safety, defined as discharge from the hospital with no mortality, and feasibility defined as successful free flap reconstruction. Covariates: Other variables included age, race, sex, length of surgery, length of hospital stay, and intraoperative use of vasopressors. Analysis: Data analysis was performed utilizing t-tests for means and χ2 for proportions. Alpha was set at < 0.05. Results: A total of 12 participants from 7 participating sites met the inclusion criteria. There were 9 males and 3 females with a mean age of 58.3 ± 8.3 years. There were no deaths in this cohort and all patients were discharged from the hospital. All 12 free flap reconstructions were successful with no incidents of free flap loss; none of the patients received any blood transfusions or any other blood products. Subgroup analysis showed that patients treated for malignant disease versus benign disease had longer operations (11.2 ± 2.9 vs 6.3 ± 0.2 hours, P < .01) and a longer hospital length of stay (11.8 ± 4.9 vs 5.3 ± 0.5 days, P = .04). Conclusion and Relevance: Our series supports the safety and feasibility of maxillofacial free flap reconstruction in this challenging subset of patients. Microvascular reconstructive surgeries for malignant diseases often result in longer operative times and hospital stays.

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