Use of Flow-through Free Flaps in Head and Neck Reconstruction

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Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery - Global Open


Background: Reconstructive obstacles in composite head and neck defects are compounded in reoperated, traumatized, irradiated, and vessel-depleted surgical fields. In cases that require multiple free flaps, recipient vessel accessibility and inset logistics become challenging. Strategic flow-through flap configurations mitigate these issues by supplying arterial inflow and venous outflow to a second flap in a contiguous fashion. This approach (1) permits the use of a singular native recipient vessel, (2) increases the reach of the vascular pedicle, avoiding the need for arteriovenous grafting, and (3) allows for a greater three-dimensional flexibility in configuring soft tissue and bony flap inset. Methods: To demonstrate this technique, we conducted a retrospective review of all head and neck reconstruction patients presenting to us from March 2019 to April 2021. Results: We present seven oncological and two traumatic patients (N = 9) who received flow-through free flaps for head and neck reconstruction. The most common flap used as the flow-through flap was the anterolateral thigh flap (N = 7), followed by the fibula flap (N = 2). Mean follow-up time was 507 days. No flap failures occurred. Conclusion: In head and neck reconstruction, the use of the flow-through principle enables uninterrupted vascular flow for two distinct free flaps in single-stage reconstruction for patients with vessel-depleted, irradiated, and/or reoperated fields. We demonstrate that flow-through flaps in the head and neck may be used successfully for a variety of cases and flaps.

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