The use of advanced critical care in children and infants with liver failure is justified because orthotopic liver transplantation can be performed on the sickest children and achieve acceptable outcomes, results from a large analysis demonstrated.

“Hand in hand with improved care for critically ill children with liver failure, posttransplant critical care has made tremendous strides,” Abbas Rana, MD, wrote in a study published online in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. “Our recipients have gotten sicker while our postoperative outcomes have improved. The question then becomes, have our operative skills and postoperative critical care management kept up with the abilities to keep sick children with liver failure alive? Just because transplantation is now possible in our sickest children, is it justified?”

To find out, Dr. Rana of the division of abdominal transplantation and hepatobiliary surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, and colleagues retrospectively analyzed United Network for Organ Sharing data from all orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) recipients between Sept. 1, 1987, and June 30, 2015. The analysis paired the liver registry data with data collected by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, and was limited to transplant recipients younger than age 18. The researchers followed a total of 13,723 recipients from date of transplant until either death or the date of last known follow-up (J Am Coll Surg. 2016 Dec 25. doi: 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2016.12.025 ).

In another part of the study, the researchers retrospectively reviewed the charts of 354 patients under 18 years of age who underwent OLT between March 1, 2002, and June 30, 2015, at Texas Children’s Hospital, including 65 who were admitted to the ICU at the time of transplantation.

In the analysis of national data, the researchers found that the rates of 1-year survival following OLT in children in the ICU improved from 60% in 1987 to 92% in 2013 (P less than .001). The rates of 1-year survival also improved for children on dialysis at the time of transplant (from 50% in 1995 to 95% in 2013; P less than .001) and for those dependent on a mechanical ventilator at the time of transplant (from 49% in 1994 to 94% in 2013; P less than .001). The significant risk factors were two previous transplants (hazard ratio, 4.2), one previous transplant (HR, 2.5), serum sodium greater than 150 mEq/L (HR, 2.0), dialysis or glomerular filtration rate less than 30 mL/min per 1.73 m2 (HR, 2.0), mechanical ventilator dependence (HR, 1.8), body weight under 6 kg (HR, 1.8), encephalopathy (HR, 1.8), and annual center volume of fewer than five cases (HR, 1.7).

In the experience at Texas Children’s Hospital, the researchers observed “preserved and successful patient survival outcomes” in many markers of acuity. For example, the 10-year survival rates for patients dependent on mechanical ventilation and dialysis were 85% and 96%, respectively, and reached 100% for those requiring therapeutic plasma exchange, molescular adsorbent recirculating system (MARS) liver dialysis, and vasopressors.

“Our collective ability to keep sick children alive with liver failure has improved considerably over the years,” the researchers wrote. “Keeping pace, this analysis demonstrates that the posttransplant outcomes have also improved dramatically. The survival outcomes are comparable to the general population, justifying the use of scarce donors. Although we cannot declare in absolute that no child should be left behind, we can demonstrate acceptable outcomes to date and urge the continual revisiting of our concepts of futility.

“We have learned throughout our experience that almost every child with end-stage liver disease and acute liver failure should be offered liver replacement, as long as the vasoactive medication and mechanical support are not maximized prior to the initiation of the OLT procedure. Every effort should be made to transplant our sickest children.”

This study was supported by the Cade R. Alpard Foundation. The researchers reported having no relevant financial disclosures.


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