Ventricular Assist Devices and Aggressive Immunosuppression: Looking Beyond Overall Survival

Gonzalo V. Gonzalez-Stawinski, Daniel J. Cook, Albert S.Y. Chang, Michael K. Banbury, Jose L. Navia, Katherine Hoercher, Cheryl Lober, Fernando A. Atik, David O. Taylor, Mohamed H. Yamani, James B. Young, Randall C. Starling, Nicholas G. Smedira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background: Patients bridged to heart transplantation with a ventricular assist device (VAD) developed coronary vasculopathy at the same rate as non-bridged patients despite having higher levels of pre-formed antibodies. We hypothesized that allosensitized VAD patients have higher levels of immunosuppression and thus different morbidity and causes of mortality. Methods: Patients who received a transplant between January 1996 and May 2002 were separated into 2 groups based on the need for VAD support as a bridge to transplantation. Transplant and Inpatient Pharmacy Databases and charts were queried for date of transplantation, degree of allosensitization, use of desensitization therapy, immunosuppressive strategies, number of treated rejection episodes, and specific causes of death. Results: This study investigated 238 patients (125 VAD patients, 113 non-VAD patients). VAD patients were more likely to be allosensitized than non-VAD patients (20% vs 5%, p < 0.01). OKT3 was given to 22% of VAD patients as anti-rejection prophylaxis and 14% received pre-transplant plasmapheresis. Non-VAD patients rarely were desensitized (2.6% of non-VAD patients). After transplantation, 68 VAD patients (54%) and 44 non-VAD patients (39%) had episodes of severe rejection requiring therapy. Episodes of rejection in VAD patients were commonly treated with steroids (90%), plasmapheresis (10%), and OKT3 (7%), and episodes of rejection in non-VAD patients were treated with steroids (76%) and OKT3 (8%). The 5-year survival for both groups was similar (90% and 86% respectively, p = 0.31). VAD patients commonly died of sepsis (75%), and non-VAD patients died of rejection (39%) and ischemic transplant cardiomyopathy (30%). Conclusion: When short-term outcomes between bridged and non-bridged heart transplant recipients were compared, overall survival was similar but causes of death differed. Findings in this study might aid in the post-operative management of patients bridged to transplantation with a VAD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)613-618
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Heart and Lung Transplantation
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Transplantation


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