SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. – The majority of trauma surgeons would aggressively manage patients with a lethal brain injury for the purposes of organ donation.
Consensus on how best to transfuse these patients to protect their organs appears to be another matter, a survey of Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma (EAST) members reveals.
"Further investigation is needed to determine what the transfusion triggers and limits should be in order to maximize our donor conversion rates," said Dr. Stancie Rhodes and her colleagues at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick, N.J.
Many institutions have set up aggressive donor management protocols to help address the worldwide shortage of transplantable organs. At press time, 117,090 candidates were on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network waiting list, with just 25,785 transplants performed between January and November 2012.
Aggressive donor management (ADM) protocols typically include guidelines for invasive monitoring and correction of metabolic disturbances that follow brain death, but many continue to lack guidelines on when and in what quantity to transfuse potential organ donors, explained Dr. Rhodes, a trauma surgeon at Robert Wood Johnson.
To further develop these guidelines, the investigators electronically surveyed all trauma surgeons in EAST regarding their transfusion practices in patients with nonsurvivable brain injury. In all, 285 members responded (24.5%). Among these respondents, 53.5% currently transfuse these patients.
Almost three-fourths, 72.5%, of respondents agreed with aggressive medical management of patients with lethal brain injury in the hope they could donate organs, while 9.4% strongly disagreed, Dr. Rhodes reported in a poster at the EAST’s annual meeting.
Trauma surgeons practicing in a suburban setting were significantly more likely to agree with transfusion than were those in rural or urban settings (77% vs. 52% vs. 55%; P less than .04).
Before deciding to aggressively manage a potential organ donor, respondents were divided on whether the testing for declaration of brain death must already be underway (111 strongly agree/26 strongly disagree), the patient must be declared brain dead (11 strongly agree/84 strongly disagree), or consent for donation of organs must have been obtained (6 strongly agree/114 strongly disagree, Dr. Rhodes reported.
"I think the important piece is that respondents overwhelmingly agreed that they would not wait for declaration of brain death to begin to aggressively manage these patients," she said in an interview. "This is important, as these patients succumb to hypoperfusion, coagulopathy, and acidosis if their ongoing hemorrhage is uncontrolled early in their course."
The majority of respondents (75%) agreed that they have a limit to the amount of product they would administer.
If the potential donor was in hemorrhagic shock, 6 respondents strongly agreed and 12 agreed they would consider transfusing blood products, while 114 disagreed and 119 strongly disagreed with the practice.
Respondents were more likely to consider transfusing, however, if the potential donor was having coagulopathic bleeding. In all, 47 strongly agreed and 106 agreed with transfusing in this setting, while 30 disagreed and 15 strongly disagreed.
If either hemorrhagic shock or coagulopathic bleeding were present, most respondents would limit packed red blood cells and fresh frozen plasma to no more than 5-8 units, and platelets to no more than 1-4 units, the authors reported.
Of those surgeons surveyed, 42% were between the ages of 40 and 49 years, 10.2% practiced primarily in a rural setting, 15.1% practiced in an suburban setting – defined as a population less than 500,000 – and 45.6% were in an urban setting, defined by a population in excess of 500,000 residents.
Dr. Rhodes and her coauthors have nothing to disclose.