Free tissue transfer can be ‘positively life-changing’ for people affected by diabetic foot disease, study finds

A qualitative study which explored the patient experiences of free tissue transfer for reconstruction of diabetic foot disease has reported it can be “positively life-changing” for those affected.

With free tissue transfer (FTT) an emerging field in the fight to preserve the limbs of those with diabetic foot disease (DFD), the UK team behind this latest research said the design of future quantitative research and clinical services in this area “must consider the needs, expectations and concerns of patients”.

They carried out semi-structured interviews of six people who underwent FTT for recalcitrant DFD between September 2019 and December 2021.

The team found that three experiential themes emerged:

  • Theme 1: ‘Negative lived experiences of living with DFD’ included frustration with the chronic management of nonhealing ulcers and fear regarding limb amputation.
  • Theme 2: ‘Surgery related concerns’ included fears of reconstructive failure and subsequent amputation, as well as foot cosmesis and donor-site morbidity.
  • Theme 3: ‘Positive lived experiences following reconstruction’ included the positive impact the reconstruction had on their overall life and diabetic control.

The results revealed that all patients would repeat the process to obtain their current results, with the patients encouraging surgeons to embark upon these complex reconstructions for limb salvage strategies.

The study also highlighted the positive impact the reconstruction had on both patients’ general health and their diabetic control.

The research team concluded: “This qualitative study provides first-hand insight into the lived experience of FTT for DFD, exploring both the negative and positive experiences and reasons for these. We found that FTT for DFD can be positively life-changing for affected individuals.”

The team was made up of researchers from centres including the Department of Plastic Surgery at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London and Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Oxford.

Read the study in full: A Qualitative Study of Patients’ Lived Experiences of Free Tissue Transfer for Diabetic Foot Disease

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