Free Flap Outcomes for Head and Neck Surgery in Patients with COVID-19

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The Laryngoscope


INTRODUCTION: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) affects the vascular system, subjecting patients to a hypercoagulable state. This is of particular concern for the success of microvascular free flap reconstruction. This study aims to report head and neck free flap complications in patients with COVID-19 during the perioperative period. We believe these patients are more likely to experience flap complications given the hypercoagulable state.

METHODS: This is a multi-institutional retrospective case series of patients infected with COVID-19 during the perioperative period for head and neck free flap reconstruction from March 2020 to January 2022.

RESULTS: Data was collected on 40 patients from 14 institutions. Twenty-one patients (52.5%) had a positive COVID-19 test within 10 days before surgery and 7 days after surgery. The remaining patients had a positive test earlier than 10 days before surgery. A positive test caused a delay in surgery for 16 patients (40.0%) with an average delay of 44.7 days (9-198 days). Two free flap complications (5.0%) occurred with no free flap deaths. Four patients (10.0%) had surgical complications and 10 patients had medical complications (25.0%). Five patients (12.5%) suffered from postoperative COVID-19 pneumonia. Three deaths were COVID-19-related and one from cancer recurrence during the study period.

CONCLUSION: Despite the heightened risk of coagulopathy in COVID-19 patients, head and neck free flap reconstructions in patients with COVID-19 are not at higher risk for free flap complications. However, these patients are at increased risk of medical complications.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: 4 Laryngoscope, 2023.

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ePub ahead of print