Organ donation in children: role of the pediatric intensive care unit

Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2000 Oct;1(2):156-60. doi: 10.1097/00130478-200010000-00012.


Objectives: Children waiting for organ transplants continue to die because of the shortage of available organs. Studies of organ donation in children are scarce. The evaluation of the organ donation experience in a pediatric tertiary care hospital may identify factors that influence actual organ donation rates and lead to strategies to improve pediatric organ donation.

Design: Retrospective study.

Setting: Pediatric intensive care unit in a Canadian pediatric referral center.

Patients: All children with brain death over an 8-yr period (1990-1997).

Interventions: None.

Measurements and main results: Of 199 children who fulfilled the criteria for brain death, 153 were medically suitable for organ donation. Families were approached for consent to organ donation in 128 (84%) of the 153 suitable cases. Consent was obtained in 63% (81/128) of those asked. Brain death caused by acute neurosurgical lesions was highly correlated to medical suitability and consent. Families identified as ethnic minorities were significantly more likely to refuse. After consent was granted, organs were procured from 63 (78%) of 81 donors, for an average of 3.6 organs transplanted per donor. There was a failure to procure organs in 22% (18/81) of cases after consent had been granted, primarily as a result of cardiocirculatory instability while in the intensive care unit.

Conclusions: Despite an encouraging 63% consent rate for organ donation when families are approached, only 41% of potential donors proceeded to actual donation. Strategies for a prospective pediatric study should focus on mandatory request, multicultural issues, and aggressive postconsent medical management and procurement. The pivotal role of the pediatric intensive care unit practitioner should be emphasized.