Traumatized children need your full attention.
Protocols work well for adults, but trauma in children requires that we exercise our clinical muscles just a bit more.
Two main reasons:
Children have specific injury patterns.
Their physiologic response to trauma is unique.
Crash course in pediatric anatomy and physiology in trauma
When you think of trauma in children, think of Charlie Brown. Large head, no neck, his chest and abdomen form an underdeveloped, amorphous shape.
Alternatively, think of children as apples – they are rounder than they are tall, with a large increased surface area. Apples don’t have a hard shell or thick rind to protect them. If you drop them, you may not see any evidence of damage to the outside, but there can be considerable bruising just under the surface.
- A child has thin skin, less subcutaneous deposits than an adult, and a non-calcified, pliable thorax that deforms more than it protects or shields.
- The child’s abdominal muscles are not yet developed. There is less peritoneal fat to cushion a blow, and so traumatic forces transmit readily into internal organs, often without external bruising.
- The child’s large surface area also causes him to dissipate heat more quickly. He may be wet from urine or blood, and in a major trauma, this faster cool-down predisposes him to coagulopathy.
A 5-year-old boy who was playing with his older brother in front of their home when the ball rolled into the street. He ran after it, and was struck by a sedan going approximately 30 mph.
This is the so-called Wadell’s triad that occurs in a collision of auto versus pedestrian or auto versus bicycle. The initial impact is the greatest, and will vary depending on the child’s height and what part of his body reaches up to the bumper of the car. Depending on the height of the child and the height of the car, the initial impact will cause a femur fracture, a pelvic fracture, or direct abdominal trauma. The second impact happens as the child is flung onto the grill or the hood of the car, causing usually thoracic trauma. The third impact can be the coup de grâce – to add insult to major injury, the child is then propelled forward, worsening the two previous impacts’ injuries and adding a third – severe blunt head trauma.
Intubation Pearl #1:
If your patient has any subtle change in mental status, intubate early. In pediatric trauma, we need to be proactive. Hypoxia is our enemy.
Intubation Pearl #2:
Thankfully cervical spine injuries in children are uncommon, and when they do occur, they typically occur at the child’s fulcrum, which is at C2. Compare this with an adult’s injury pattern with our fulcrum at C7. Be careful and minimize manipulation of the cervical spine, but do what you must to visualize the chords and place the tube. Keep the neck midline, and realize that the child’s usual decrease respiratory reserve is even more affected by trauma. Preoxygenate and pass that tube quickly.
Chest Tube Pearl #1:
Chest tube sizing in pediatrics is straightforward if we remember that the traditional chest tube size is 4 x the ETT size.
Chest Tube Pearl #2:
Try using a pigtail catheter.
- Lateral edge of the pectoral muscle
- Lateral edge of the latisimus dorsi
- Line along the fifth intercostal space at the level of the nipple.
It’s roughly where you would put on a generous dose of deodorant. Insertion here minimizes the risk of damage to nerves, vessels and organs.
Resuscitative Thoracotomy in Children
In a 40-year review of ED thoracotomy, Moore et al. analyzed 1,691 patients who received ED thoracotomy. Overall all-cause adult survival was 6.1%. In children ? 15 years of age, overall all-cause survival was considerably less, at 3.4%.
In a large case series and review of the literature for pediatric ED thoracotomy, Allen et al. found a survival rate in penetrating trauma of 10.2%, with a much lower survival rate in blunt pediatric arrest, at 1.6%. Adolescents had more penetrating injuries, and younger children had more blunt trauma.
To synthesize, the rarity of ED thoracotomy in children is due to the fact that:
- Traumatic full arrest in children is uncommon.
- It is most often blunt trauma.
- Blunt traumatic arrest in children is mostly non-survivable.
If you have access to resuscitative endovascular balloon occlusion of the aorta or REBOA, this may be an option to temporize the child to get him to the relative control of the operating room. REBOA involves accessing the common femoral artery, passing a vascular sheath, floating a balloon catheter to the appropriate section of the aorta, and inflating the balloon to occlude blood flow.
Brenner et al. described a case series of 6 patients from two Level I trauma centers. They used REBOA for refractory hemorrhagic shock due to either blunt or penetrating injury. After balloon occlusion, blood pressure improved sufficiently to take the patient either to interventional radiology or to the OR. Four patients lived, two died. The AORTA trial is underway to investigate its use in trauma.
- Children are like Charlie Brown – large head, no neck, amorphous, underdeveloped and unprotected thorax and abdomen. Or, if you like, they’re like, apples – they have a large surface area and are easily internally bruised, often without overt signs of external bruising.
- Chest tubes for children are very similar to the adult procedure – the traditional chest tube size is 4 x the child’s ETT size. Try to use smaller pigtail catheters, available in commercial kits, whenever possible. They’re easy, safe, and effective.
- Resuscitative thoracotomy is for penetrating trauma with signs of life wthin 10-15 minutes of arrival. Find the correctable surgical cause of the arrest. Resuscitative thoracotomy for blunt trauma has a dismal prognosis in children.
Allen CJ, Valle EJ, Thorson CM, Hogan AR, Perez EA, Namias N, Zakrison TL, Neville HL, Sola JE. Pediatric emergency department thoracotomy: a large case series and systematic review. J Pediatr Surg. 2015 Jan;50(1):177-81.
American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma; American College of Emergency Physicians Pediatric Emergency Medicine Committee; National Association of Ems Physicians; American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Fallat ME. Withholding or termination of resuscitation in pediatric out-of-hospital traumatic cardiopulmonary arrest. Pediatrics. 2014 Apr;133(4):e1104-16.
Holscher CM, Faulk LW, Moore EE, Cothren Burlew C, Moore HB, Stewart CL, Pieracci FM, Barnett CC, Bensard DD. Chest computed tomography imaging for blunt pediatric trauma: not worth the radiation risk. J Surg Res. 2013 Sep;184(1):352-7.
Scaife ER, Rollins MD, Barnhart DC, Downey EC, Black RE, Meyers RL, Stevens MH, Gordon S, Prince JS, Battaglia D, Fenton SJ, Plumb J, Metzger RR. The role of focused abdominal sonography for trauma (FAST) in pediatric trauma evaluation. J Pediatr Surg. 2013 Jun;48(6):1377-83.
Pediatric Trauma on WikEM
This post and podcast are dedicated to Dr Al Sacchetti, MD, FACEP. Thank you for promoting the emergency care of children and for spreading the message that you don’t need subspecialty training to take good care of acutely ill and injured children.
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