Microsurgical replantation of the lip: A multi-institutional experience

Robert L. Walton, Elisabeth K. Beahm, Richard E. Brown, Joseph Upton, Kurt Reinke, Gary Fudem, Joe Banis, John Davidson, Richard Dabb, Ramasamy Kalimuthu, W. John Kitzmiller, Lawrence J. Gottlieb, Harry J. Buncke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Traumatic amputation of the lip is a rare yet devastating event affecting both form and function. Considering the available methods for reconstruction, replantation may offer a reasonable solution. We sought to characterize the variables associated with lip replantation and to assess the outcome in a retrospective review of 13 lip replantations performed in 12 institutions utilizing a form database and clinical and photographic analysis. Lip replantation was successful in all 13 patients; partial flap loss occurred in one patient owing to iatrogenic injury. Follow-up averaged 3.1 years. Average patient age at the time of injury was 21.1 years. There were six male and seven female patients. Injuries in two patients were the result of a human bite, the remaining injuries resulted from dog bites. One patient had significant associated injuries. Average length of hospital stay was 11.9 days. Ten patients suffered amputations of the upper lip, and three suffered amputations of the lower lip. Average defect size was 10.6 cm2. Operative time averaged 5.7 hours (range 2.5 to 12 hours). Warm ischemia time averaged 2.9 hours, and cold ischemia time averaged 2.7 hours. Donor and recipient veins were often scarce; all patients had at least one arterial anastomosis, whereas no vein was available in 7 of 13 patients; vein grafts were required in one patient. Leech therapy was employed in 11 of 13 patients. Anticoagulant therapy was administered in the majority of patients. Systemic heparin was utilized in 10 of 13 patients, low molecular weight dextran was used in 7 of 13 patients, and aspirin was given to 7 of 13 patients. One bleeding complication was incurred. An average of 6.2 units of packed red blood cells was administered to 12 of 13 patients (adjusted to 250 cc/unit). Antispasmodic therapy was employed in six of eight patients intraoperatively and in two of eight patients postoperatively. Intraoperative complications included difficulty identifying veins in 7 of 13 patients, arterial spasm in 1 of 13 patients, and vessel diameter <0.5 mm in 4 patients. Postoperatively, one patient suffered vein thrombosis requiring anastomotic revision. Broad spectrum antibiotics were administered to all patients, and there were no infections. Nearly one-third (4 of 13) patients suffered prolonged edema lasting >4 months. Color match of the replanted lip segment was rated excellent in all cases. Hypertrophic scarring occurred in 6 of 13 patients. A total of 12 revision procedures was performed in six patients. Interestingly, leech therapy resulted in permanent visible scarring as a result of the leech bite in 6 of 11 patients treated. Ten patients demonstrated active orbicularis muscle contraction in the replanted lip segment. Stomal continence was present in all lips. Sensibility return in the replanted lip segment was quite good with 12 of 13 patients demonstrating at least protective moving two-point sensibility (≤10 mm). Partial replant necrosis in one patient resulted in significant scar and contraction that compromised the aesthetic appearance. Overall, however, all patients were uniformly pleased with their final results. This clinical study is one of the largest of its kind on lip replantation. Although this represents a multi- institutional experience, the data are remarkably consistent. Re- establishment of venous outflow seems to be the most problematic technical challenge. By incorporating the adjuncts of anticoagulation, leech therapy, and antispasmodics, a successful outcome can be expected despite the paucity of vessels and small vessel size. The risks of blood transfusion, lengthy operative time, and hospital stay must be weighed against the functional benefits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)358-368
Number of pages11
JournalPlastic and reconstructive surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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