Split liver transplantation and pediatric waitlist mortality in the United States: potential for improvement

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In the United States, 1 in 10 infants and 1 in 20 older children die on the liver transplant waiting list. Increasing split liver transplantation could increase organ availability for these children, without decreasing transplants in adults.


Using UNOS STAR data, we identified livers transplanted 2010-2015 that could potentially have been used for split transplant, based on strict criteria. Livers not suitable for pediatric patients or allocated to high-risk recipients were excluded. Number and distribution of potentially “split-able” livers were compared to pediatric waitlist deaths in each region.


Of 37 333 deceased donor livers transplanted, 6.3% met our strict criteria for utilization in split liver transplant. Only 3.8% of these were actually utilized for split liver transplantation. 96% were utilized for a single adult recipient. Of the 2253 transplanted as whole livers, 82% of their recipients were listed as willing to accept a segmental liver, and only 3% were listed as requiring a cold ischemia time less than 6 hours. Over the same 5 years, 299 children died on the waitlist. In every UNOS region, there were more potentially “split-able” livers than pediatric waitlist deaths. 37% of pediatric waitlist deaths occurred at transplant centers that averaged ≤1 pediatric split liver transplant annually during the study period.


This comparison, while not conclusive, suggests that we might be missing opportunities to reduce pediatric waitlist mortality without decreasing access for adults—using split liver transplant. Barriers are significant, but further work on strategies to increase split liver transplant is warranted.

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