Grossly contaminated median stemotomy wounds are frequently treated with transposed omental flaps. A laparotomy adjacent to such an infected wound carries the risk of peritonitis. It has been suggested that this risk may increase when the omentum, which has anti-infective properties, is removed from the abdominal cavity and is transposed to the chest. The authors evaluated abdominal recovery after laparotomy and omental transposition into an adjacent, grossly contaminated median sternotomy wound. The study group included 15 patients who had sternal wound reconstruction with an omental flap between 1990 and 1998. All patients underwent median sternotomy reconstruction according to a 'two-compartment' operative sequence protocol, which included division of the surgical field into an upper (thoracic) contaminated zone and a lower (abdominal) clean zone. The control group was comprised of 15 patients who underwent elective laparotomy for splenectomy during the same time period. The effect of the surgical procedure on the abdomen was compared between the two groups. The timing of the reappearance of peristalsis and regular bowel function, and the incidence of bowel obstruction and postoperative peritonitis were similar in the two groups. The findings indicate that laparotomy and omental transposition in the presence of a grossly contaminated median sternotomy wound is a safe procedure, and is associated with a low rate of abdominal complications.