A review of the peri-operative management of paediatric burns: Identifying adverse events

  • H Rode
  • C Brink
  • K Bester
  • M.P. Coleman
  • T Baisey
  • R Martinez


Background. Burn injuries are common in poverty-stricken countries. The majority of patients with large and complex burns are referred to burn centres. Of the children who qualify for admission, according to burn admission criteria, about half require some kind of surgical procedure to obtain skin cover. These range from massive full-thickness fire burns to skin grafts for small, residual unhealed wounds. Burn anaesthetic procedures are of the most difficult to perform and are known for high complication rates. Reasons include peri-operative sepsis, bleeding, issues around thermoregulation, the hypermetabolic state, nutritional and electrolyte issues, inhalation injuries and the amount of movement during procedures to wash patients, change drapes and access different anatomical sites. The appropriate execution of surgery is therefore of the utmost importance for both minor and major procedures.

Objective. To review the peri-operative management and standard of surgical care of burnt children.

Methods. This was a retrospective review and analysis of standard peri-operative care of burnt children at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa. A total of 558 children were operated on and supervised by the first author. Factors that could adversely affect surgical and anaesthetic outcomes were identified.

Results. There were 257 males and 301 females in this study, with an average age of 50.1 months and average weight of 19.5 kg. The total body surface area involved was 1 - 80%, with an average of 23.5%. Inhalational injury was present in 11.3%, pneumonia in 13.1%, wound sepsis in 20.8%, and septicaemia in 9.7%, and organ dysfunction in more than one organ was seen in 6.1%. The average theatre temperature during surgery was 30.0°C. Core temperatures recorded at the start, halfway through and at completion of surgery were 36.9°C, 36.8°C and 36.5°C, respectively. The average preoperative and postoperative haemoglobin levels were 11.28 g/dL and 9.64 g/dL, respectively. Blood loss was reduced by the use of clysis from 1.5 mL/kg/% burn to 1.4 mL/kg/% burn. Adverse intraoperative events were seen in 17.6% of children.

Conclusion. Burn surgery is a high-risk procedure and comorbidities are common. Anaesthesia and surgery must be well planned and executed with special reference to temperature control, rapid blood loss, preceding respiratory illnesses and measures to reduce blood loss.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0256-95749
print ISSN: 2078-5135