Recent studies have reported the expanding use of transplantation as the definitive option for pediatric patients with inoperable congenital heart disease. This study compares perioperative risk factors and outcomes in pediatric patients who received heart transplants for congenital heart disease with those in pediatric patients who received heart transplants for cardiomyopathy. Retrospective data collected on 40 consecutive pediatric patients undergoing cardiac transplantation from 1 January 1990 through 31 January 1995 provided the following results: 26 patients with cardiomyopathy (mean age, 7.6 years) and 14 patients with congenital heart disease (mean age, 7.2 years) underwent heart transplantation. Between groups, no significant difference was detected in waiting time for a donor heart (cardiomyopathy = 85 days, range = 2 to 409; congenital heart disease = 126 days, range = 9 to 396; P = NS); in donor/recipient weight ratio (1.27 +/- 0.34 vs 1.27 +/- 0.28, P = NS); or in ischemic times (209 +/- 92 minutes vs 248 +/- 70 minutes, P = NS). Cardiopulmonary bypass times accounted for the only significant difference (73 +/- 21 minutes vs 102 +/- 29 minutes, P = 0.003). No significant difference was found in the number of infection episodes, total days hospitalized, rejection episodes, or incidence of transplant coronary artery disease. Forty-month actuarial survival was 88% +/- 6% and 92% +/- 7% for cardiomyopathy and congenital heart disease transplant recipients, respectively (P = NS). We conclude that post-transplantation morbidity and mortality in patients with previous congenital heart disease are not significantly different from morbidity and mortality in patients with cardiomyopathy. Transplantation should be considered an acceptable therapeutic option for patients with congenital heart disease when surgical repair of the native heart is not possible.