The bidirectional Glenn operation may be particularly useful as an intermediate procedure before Fontan correction in high-risk patients. From October 1989 through February 1992, 50 patients 1 to 60 months old (median 12) have undergone a bidirectional Glenn operation. Diagnoses included hypoplastic left heart syndrome in 21 patients, pulmonary atresia with intact ventricular septum in 10, tricuspid valve atresia in 9, other complex univentricular heart defects in 9, and Ebstein's anomaly in 1. Mean pulmonary vascular resistance was 2.2 +/- 0.2 Wood U (range 0.5 to 7.3) and mean pulmonary artery area Nakata index was 318 +/- mm2/m2 (range 80 to 821). Additional procedures were performed in 17 patients, including pulmonary artery reconstruction in 15 (29%) and bilateral caval anastomoses in 5 (10%). There were 4 hospital deaths (8%). Two deaths resulted from myocardial infarction in patients with pulmonary atresia with intact ventricular septum and sinusoids and 1 from severe pulmonary vascular disease in a patient with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. There was 1 late death from pneumonia. Actuarial survival is 92 +/- 4% at 1 month and beyond, with a mean follow-up of 13.4 +/- 1 months. Risk factor analysis showed that pulmonary vascular resistance > 3 Wood U and pulmonary artery distortion were associated with increased mortality. Twelve patients have undergone a Fontan procedure at a mean duration after bidirectional Glenn of 18 months with 1 death (8%). The bidirectional Glenn procedure provides excellent palliation in high-risk patients and appears useful as a staging procedure before Fontan correction.