We sought to determine the safety and utility of Harmonic Scalpel-assisted free-flap harvesting as an alternative to a combined electrocautery and surgical clip technique. The medical records of 103 patients undergoing radial forearm free-flap reconstruction (105 free flaps) for head and neck surgical defects between 2006 and 2008 were reviewed. The use of bipolar electrocautery and surgical clips for division of small perforating vessels (n = 53) was compared to ultrasonic energy (Harmonic Scalpel; Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio) (n = 52) free tissue harvesting techniques. Flap-harvesting time was reduced with the use of the Harmonic Scalpel when compared with electrocautery and surgical clip harvest (31.4 vs. 36.9 minutes, respectively; p = 0.06). Two patients who underwent flap harvest with electrocautery and surgical clips developed postoperative donor site hematomas, whereas no donor site complications were noted in the Harmonic Scalpel group. Recipient site complication rates for infection, fistula, and hematoma were similar for both harvesting techniques (p = 0.77). Two flap failures occurred in the clip-assisted radial forearm free-flap harvest group, and none in the Harmonic Scalpel group. Median length of hospitalization was significantly reduced for patients who underwent free-flap harvest with the Harmonic Scalpel when compared with the other technique (7 vs. 8 days; p = 0.01). The Harmonic Scalpel is safe, and its use is feasible for radial forearm free-flap harvest.
Free tissue transfer has become the standard for reconstruction of most large head and neck cancer defects, with the radial forearm fasciocutaneous free flap being utilized in the majority of cases.1 The flap is typically harvested under tourniquet control, and hemostasis is maintained through the use of bipolar electrocautery and surgical clips.