Tracheoesophageal Fistula (TEF) and Esophageal Atresia Repair

This surgery is used to repair two congenital defects of the airway and the digestive tract: Tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF) and esophageal atresia. These defects usually occur together, but they may occur separately.


Surgery is done while the child is under general anesthesia (unconscious and pain-free). The surgeon makes a cut in the right chest between the ribs. The tracheoesophageal fistula is closed off, then the upper and lower portions of the esophagus are sewn together.

Some infants, such as those who have a low birth weight or other birth defects that cause severe illness, may not be able to have immediate surgery. Surgery will be done after the other problems have been treated or have gone away. In these cases, a gastrostomy tube is placed in the stomach to relieve pressure and prevent fluid from moving up the esophagus and into the trachea. The gastrostomy tube is often placed using local numbing medicines (anesthesia).

In most healthy infants, certain types of TEF are easier to repair after a few months (usually 2 - 4) have passed to allow the baby to grow. During this period, the esophagus may need to be occasionally stretched and widened using an instrument called a dilator. This makes the future repair easier.


TEF and esophageal atresia are life-threatening problems requiring immediate medical attention and treatment. Untreated, saliva and fluids from the gastrointestinal track may be breathed into the lungs (aspirated), which can cause choking. Normal swallowing and digestion of food cannot occur with the abnormal esophagus.

Expectations after surgery:

Tracheoesophageal fistula and esophageal atresia can usually be corrected surgically. If the two parts of the esophagus are too short, further surgery may be needed and a gastrostomy tube may be temporarily used for feedings.

Additional treatments after surgery usually include:

  • Oxygen
  • Breathing assistance (mechanical ventilation)
  • IV fluids
  • Antibiotics as needed
  • Pain medicines as needed
A tube placed through the nose into the stomach will keep the stomach empty. Feedings are started through this tube as soon as bowel function starts again. Feedings are started very slowly, and often infants are slow to feed. The baby may need feeding therapy and lots of encouragement.