Introduction: The radial forearm free flap is a popular reconstructive flap in modern head and neck surgery. Poor wound healing at the forearm donor site is common and frequently results in tendon exposure. The Vacuum-Assisted Closure (VAC) system (Kinetic Concepts Inc., San Antonio, TX) is a topical negative pressure dressing that has been shown to improve skin graft viability when used as a bolster dressing. In this study, we investigated the use of the VAC system in the management of the radial forearm free flap donor site.
Methods: A retrospective chart review was performed on all subjects who underwent a radial forearm free flap reconstruction in which the VAC system was used as a bolster dressing at the donor site from January 1, 2003, through March 31, 2005.
Results: Thirty-four consecutive subjects were included in the study. Exposed tendon did not occur in 14 (0%) subjects in which the VAC bolster was used for a minimum of 6 days. Eleven of the 20 subjects (55%) who used the VAC bolster for 5 days demonstrated small amounts of tendon exposure (<2 cm) on follow-up clinic examination. The minimum follow up for all subjects was 4 months.
Conclusion: This study demonstrates that the VAC system is a feasible alternative to conventional bolster dressing in the management of the radial forearm free flap skin-grafted donor site. Based on this study, when used for a minimum of 6 days, the VAC bolster dressing eliminated tendon exposure at the forearm donor site.