Microvascular reconstruction surgery is a technique for fixing defects in the body using blood vessels, bone, muscle and skin from other parts of the body. These defects can result from different causes including cancer, tumors, trauma or infections.
“To fix these defects, a surgeon transplants tissue from another part of your body to the wounded area,” explained Dr. Jamal Ahmed, a Marshfield Clinic Health System otolaryngologist. “For example, if a patient’s lower jaw needs to be removed because of a cancerous tumor, we can fix the missing bone and skin using a transplant of bone and skin from the lower leg. Then they can have a functional jaw and acceptable cosmetic result.”
This type of transplant Dr. Ahmed describes is called a free flap. A free flap is different from a graft because the tissue is transferred with blood vessels.
Compared to a graft, free flap can be used to fix defects with high success. This is the case even with conditions that make healing difficult like radiation, chemotherapy or diabetes. This is because the blood vessels from the original site are moved with the tissue. This allows the tissue to live as if it were in its original location.
“There are many types of free flaps,” Dr. Ahmed said. “Each is designed to address different defects and serve different purposes.” Some flaps have muscle and skin, others have skin and bone, others have only skin.
Microvascular reconstruction surgery expectations
“Microvascular reconstructions are all usually long surgeries, as the problems they are addressing are typically challenging surgical defects,” Dr. Ahmed said.
The risks and overall recovery time are different for each person. But usually, after the surgery, patients are monitored in the intensive care unit for a couple of days and then the hospital for at least a week after that. Overall, microvascular reconstructions are safe surgeries. They are usually the best option to have a good outcome. Additionally, patients typically heal well from these surgeries.