Management of primary graft failure after heart transplantation: Preoperative risks, perioperative events, and postoperative decisions

Lauren K. Truby, Scott DeRoo, Jessica Spellman, Douglas L. Jennings, Koji Takeda, Barry Fine, Susan Restaino, Maryjane Farr

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Primary graft failure (PGF) after heart transplantation (HT) is a devastating and unexpected event characterized by failure of the graft to adequately support recipient circulation necessitating high doses of vasopressors and inotropes and/or temporary mechanical circulatory support. Although it represents an increasingly common event in the current era, there remains a high degree of variability in prevalence, reported risk factors, and approach to this clinical entity. The purpose of the current review is to highlight preoperative considerations including known incidence and risk factors, perioperative issues involving the identification and management of PGF, and postoperative decisions related to weaning of mechanical circulatory support and titration of immunosuppressive therapy. Lastly, we highlight future directions in PGF research, involving basic and translational research, that have the potential to uncover novel strategies of risk stratification and treatment. Case: Our patient is a 53-year-old man with end-stage non-ischemic dilated cardiomyopathy complicated by ventricular tachycardia (VT), post-capillary pulmonary hypertension, and renal insufficiency. After progressing to NYHA Class IV symptoms, he underwent implantation of a durable left ventricular assist device (LVAD) as bridge to transplant (BTT). On device support, he developed recurrent VT resulting in multiple defibrillator discharges and hospital admission for intravenous anti-arrhythmic therapy. He is subsequently upgraded to a higher status on the waiting list. A suitable donor is identified, with an appropriate predicted heart mass and an anticipated ischemic time of <4 hours. He is taken to the operating room, where at the time of anesthesia induction he develops vasodilatory shock, requiring high-dose vasopressors, and cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) support for dissection. After surgical anastomosis, cross clamp removal and reperfusion, graft function is extremely poor, there is significant bradycardia requiring pacing, and the patient is unable to be weaned successfully from CPB. Venoarterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (VA-ECMO) is initiated, and the patient is transferred to the intensive care unit. Retrospective flow crossmatch is negative. This patient is suffering from severe primary graft failure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13557
JournalClinical Transplantation
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • graft survival
  • heart (allograft) function/dysfunction
  • heart failure/injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Transplantation


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