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Microvascular Free Tissue Transfer

Microvascular free tissue transfer or “free flap” is usually used to repair the space left after cancer has been removed.

A free flap takes a block of tissue from one part of your body (called the donor site) and moves it to the site that needs reconstruction (called the recipient site). The surgeon uses a microscope to connect the small blood vessels that feed the tissue that is being transferred with blood vessels at the site that needs reconstruction. These blood vessels are smaller than a matchstick.

The stitches used to join them are finer than a human hair. Sometimes, a longer vessel is needed. In that case, the surgeon will take a vein from your arm or leg. It is removed through a small incision. Connecting the blood vessels allows the free flap to live in its new spot. This is called microsurgery.

For the first week after surgery, doctors and nurses will monitor the blood supply to your reconstructed site and nearby tissues. They use a machine called a Doppler®. It is noisy, but painless. They may also check the temperature and the colour of your flap.

These assessments are very important since free flaps can be saved if problems are detected early. The assessments are done often during the first week.

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