Repeated infections following fibular free flap and neck dissection.

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Evening everyone,

My Dad underwent fibular free flap surgery with left side neck dissection in February of that year. Six days into recovery he unfortunately suffered full free flap failure. It was a huge blow. The surgery was repeated harvesting muscle, tissue and skin from his arm. He has two 13 hour surgeries within 6 days of each other. His recovery was very hard and he’s suffered a lot of pain and set-backs.
He has been left with something similar to ‘first bite’ syndrome which means it can be agonising to eat for the first few mouthfuls. If he preserves it can subside but some foods are simply off-limits as they trigger too much pain. In addition to this his face and neck keep swelling up with what appears to be an infection each time. The gaps between these episodes were around 4-6 weeks for the first three infections and he’s now in the middle of the fourth infection having had three months without one. As you can imagine the infections are a double set-back. The pain is so acute he has to take morphine and psychologically he feels stuck in a cycle of recovery and then set-back. 
A MRI was taken two months ago to see if his plate had moved and might be the cause of the pain and/or infections, but the plate is in place.

Has anyone had anything similar? Could it be lymphoedema and not an infection? How would he know? The GP jumps straight to infection every time. I’m worried he will become antibiotic resistant.

My poor Mum was in tears yesterday. She feels their lives will never be the same again. How do I help them?

Many thanks for reading.



  • Hi Jenny

    sorry to hear your dad is struggling still.  I had the same operation in March 2022 and seventeen months down the line I still have the ‘first bite’ syndrome and yes, certain foods are still off limits, but, bit by bit I feel I am managing, by continual trial and error to get them back into my diet. I have Lymphadeama around the surgery site and under chin, it is jolly uncomfortable but I really can’t say, apart from aching from time to time, that it is painful.  If it was February this year your dad had surgery, and unfortunately double dos, I would suggest still quite early into recovery. I am 79 by the way and suspect perhaps we oldies don’t heal just as quickly.  I hope this helps a little.  Do hope things improve for your dad in the near future.

    June x