In the 6-year period between 1977 and 1982 inclusive, 75 newborn infants with congenital diaphragmatic hernia of Bochdelek underwent corrective surgery during the first 24 hours of life. A total of 40 infants (53%) survived. Beginning in January 1980, a standardized approach to care including early use of mechanical ventilation and paralysis with pancuronium as well as dopamine use prior to any Priscoline infusion, was instituted. To determine whether these approaches improved outcome, term infants without malformations from the years 1977 to 1979 were compared with a similar group treated after institution of standardized care between 1980 and 1982 inclusive. The infants were comparable in all respects, but survival improved from 45% to 82% between the two periods ( P<0.03). There was an associated decrease in the incidence of pneumothorax (45% in first period; 14% in second period) paralleled by a concomitant increase in pancuronium use (18% and 85%, respectively). Although factors responsible for the improved survival are multifactorial these data indicate the detrimental effect of pneumothorax on outcome and the beneficial effect of a standardized approach to care using conventional intensive care techniques.