Tex Heart Inst J 2001;28(4):315-7
Latrogenic injury to the longthoracic nerve: an underestimated cause of morbidity after cardiac surgery.
Bizzarri F, Davoli G, Bouklas D, Oncchio L, Frati G, Neri E.
Istituto di Chirurgia Toracica e Cardiovascolare Universita degli Studi di Siena, Italy.
After heart surgery, complications affecting the brachial plexus have been reported in 2% to 38% of cases. The long thoracic nerve is vulnerable to damage at various levels, due to its long and superficial course. This nerve supplies the serratus anterior muscle, which has an important role in the abduction and elevation of the superior limb; paralysis of the serratus anterior causes "winged scapula," a condition in which the arm cannot be lifted higher than 90 degrees from the side. Unfortunately the long thoracic nerve can be damaged by a wide variety of traumatic and nontraumatic occurrences, ranging from viral or nonviral disease to improper surgical technique, to the position of the patient during transfer to a hospital bed. Our patient, a 62-year-old man with triple-vessel disease, underwent myocardial revascularization in which right and left internal thoracic arteries and the left radial artery were grafted to the right coronary, descending anterior, and obtuse marginal arteries, respectively. Despite strong recovery and an apparently good postoperative course, the patient sued for damages due to subsequent winging of the left scapula. In this instance, the legal case has less to do with the cause of the lesion (which remains unclear) than with failure to adequately inform the patient of possible complications at the expense of the nervous system. The lesson is that each patient must receive detailed written and oral explanation of the potential benefits and all conceivable risks of a procedure.