Life impact of VA-ECMO due to primary graft dysfunction in patients after orthotopic heart transplantation

René M'Pembele, Sebastian Roth, Alexandra Stroda, Giovanna Lurati Buse, Stephan U. Sixt, Ralf Westenfeld, Amin Polzin, Philipp Rellecke, Igor Tudorache, Markus W. Hollmann, Hug Aubin, Payam Akhyari, Artur Lichtenberg, Ragnar Huhn, Udo Boeken

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Aims: Primary graft dysfunction (PGD) is a feared complication after heart transplantation (HTX). HTX patients frequently receive veno-arterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (VA-ECMO) until graft recovery. Long-term mortality of patients weaned from VA-ECMO after HTX is comparable with non-ECMO patients. However, impact on quality of life is unknown. This study investigated days alive and out of hospital (DAOH) as patient-centred outcome in HTX patients at 1 year after surgery. Methods and results: This retrospective single-centre cohort study included patients who underwent HTX at the University Hospital Düsseldorf, Germany, from 2010 to 2020. Main exposure was VA-ECMO due to PGD. VA-ECMO and non-VA-ECMO patients were compared regarding the primary endpoint DAOH at 1 year after HTX. Subgroup analysis for patients weaned from VA-ECMO was performed. In total, 144 patients were included into analysis; 1 year mortality was significantly lower in non-ECMO patients [non-ECMO 14.3% (14/98) vs. VA-ECMO 34.8% (16/46), adjusted hazard ratio: 0.32, 95% confidence interval: 0.15–0.74; P = 0.002]. Mortality did not differ significantly between patients weaned from VA-ECMO and non-ECMO patients [non-ECMO 14.3% (14/98) vs. VA-ECMO (weaned) 18.9% (7/37), adjusted hazard ratio: 0.72, 95% confidence interval: 0.27–1.90; P = 0.48]. DAOH were significantly higher in non-ECMO patients compared with VA-ECMO patients and patients weaned from VA-ECMO [non-ECMO vs. VA-ECMO: median 310 (inter-quartile range 277–327) days vs. 243 (0–288) days; P < 0.0001; non-ECMO vs. VA-ECMO (weaned): 310 (277–327) days vs. 253 (208–299) days; P < 0.0001]. These results were still significant after multivariable adjustment with forced entry of predefined covariables. Conclusions: Despite similar survival rates, VA-ECMO due to PGD has a relevant life impact as defined by DAOH in the first year after HTX. As a more patient-centred endpoint, DAOH may contribute to a more comprehensive assessment of outcome in HTX patients.

Original languageEnglish
JournalESC heart failure
Early online date2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2021


  • Cardiac surgery
  • Days alive and out of hospital
  • ECLS
  • Patient-centred outcomes
  • Quality of life

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