Background: There has been little research about the causes of death after congenital heart surgery.
Methods: To determine whether mode of death differs after congenital heart surgery, we evaluated the cause of death for 100 consecutive postoperative deaths at our institution. Mode of death was determined based on retrospective chart review including available autopsy reports. Low output states were categorized into ventricular failure; inadequate postoperative physiology (technically adequate surgery and ventricular function, but persistent low cardiac output); pulmonary hypertension; and atrioventricular valve regurgitation.
Results: There was considerable anatomic diversity among patients who died; 46 patients had single-ventricle physiology. The vast majority of patients (n = 79) were in the intensive care unit before surgery. Surgical repairs were revised at initial operation in 22 cases; 7 patients died in the operating room. Seventy-three patients had technically adequate surgical procedures, 23 had residual anatomic defects, and 4 were indeterminate. Thirty patients underwent additional surgical and 9 catheter-based procedures, although some were classified as rescue procedures performed to address minor anatomic or physiologic abnormalities as a last hope to rescue the patient from impending demise. Of 100 deaths, most (n = 52) were due to low cardiac output: 24 inadequate postoperative physiology, 19 ventricular failure, 8 pulmonary hypertension, and 1 valvar regurgitation. Other significant causes of death included sudden cardiac arrest (n = 11), sepsis (n = 11), and procedural complications (n = 8).
Conclusions: More than half of the deaths were due to low cardiac output, but not exclusively ventricular failure.