Daily noninvasive rejection monitoring improves long-term survival in pediatric heart transplantation

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Abstract

Background.

Acute rejection episodes and transplant vasculopathy (TVP) account for most of the late deaths after heart transplantation in both adults and children. Accumulating evidence indicates that fatal acute rejection and TVP are related to unrecognized and untreated early and ongoing acute rejection. Day-by-day surveillance of the heart and prompt treatment of any rejection may yield improved long-term survival.

Methods.

In almost all patients having transplantation at our institution (978 patients since 1986), the intramyocardial electrogram (IMEG) was recorded routinely every day through a telemetry pacemaker and transmitted to our center by telephone modem. Earlier studies showed a substantial voltage drop in the IMEG QRS complex is highly indicative of acute rejection, including humoral rejection. In this study, we reviewed the data from 69 pediatric patients up to 16 years old for the incidence of acute rejection, TVP, and long-term outcome. Diagnostic endomyocardial biopsies were performed in only 10 patients, and recent coronary angiograms from 29 children were reviewed.

Results.

In 50 children discharged after heart transplantation, IMEG surveillance data for a mean of 2.9 years indicated 72 acute rejection episodes. During follow-up of 1 month to 10.5 years (mean follow-up, 4.4 years), 2 patients died late of causes unrelated to either rejection or TVP. Another patient died of rejection during unrecognized underimmunosuppression nearly 8 years after transplantation and nearly 3½ years after discontinuing IMEG recordings. Two patients without IMEG recording died of acute rejection or late TVP. In 1 patient, moderate TVP was seen on an angiogram after 4½ years (incidence, 2.0%; 5-year incidence, 5.6%).

Conclusions.

Daily recording of the IMEG can reliably detect early stages of acute rejection episodes, and immediate rejection treatment seems to keep the incidence of TVP low. The IMEG appears better than all the other rejection monitoring protocols currently in use.

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