Penetrating injuries of the thoracic aorta are usually rapidly lethal. Few patients survive for long enough to undergo surgical treatment. When penetrating injuries of the thoracic aorta are complicated by arteriovenous fistula a correct preoperative diagnosis is important for adequate planning of the surgical repair, and so selective angiography is essential. The best approach is through a median sternotomy with the use of total cardiopulmonary bypass with or without deep hypothermia and circulatory arrest. Fistulae between aorta and innominate vein invariably lead to congestive cardiac failure. A review of the literature suggests that signs of cardiac failure rarely appear early. Congestive failure developed within 30 days of the initial trauma in only two of the 12 reported cases. In our case, the early onset of cardac failure refractory to therapy and the appearance of an expanding pulsatile mass at the base of the neck, threatening rupture, necessitated emergency surgical treatment.
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