Background Advances in critical care prolong survival in children with liver failure, allowing more critically ill children to undergo orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT). In order to justify the use of a scarce donor resource and avoid futile transplants, we sought to determine survival in children who undergo OLT while receiving pre-OLT critical care. Study Design We analyzed 13,723 pediatric OLTs using the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) database from 1987 to 2015, including 6,746 recipients in the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease/Pediatric End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD/PELD) era (2002 to 2015). There were 1,816 recipients (26.9%) admitted to the ICU at the time of transplantation. We also analyzed 354 pediatric OLT recipients at our center from 2002 to 2015, one of the largest institutional experiences. Sixty-five recipients (18.3%) were admitted to the ICU at the time of transplantation. Kaplan-Meier, volume threshold, and multivariable analyses were performed. Results Patient survival improved steadily over the study period, (66% 1-year survival in 1987 vs 92% in 2015; p < 0.001). Our institutional experience of ICU recipients in the MELD/PELD era had acceptable outcomes (87% 1-year survival), even among our sickest recipients with vasoactive medications, mechanical ventilation, dialysis, and molecular adsorbent recirculating system requirements. Volume analysis revealed inferior outcomes (hazard ratio [HR] 1.68; 95% CI 1.11 to 2.51) in low-volume centers (<5 annual cases). Identifiable risk factors (previous transplantation, elevated serum sodium, hemodialysis, mechanical ventilation, body weight < 6 kg, and low center volume) increased risk of mortality. Conclusions This analysis demonstrates that the use of advanced critical care in children and infants with liver failure is justified because OLT can be performed on the sickest children and acceptable outcomes achieved. It is an appropriate use of a scarce donor allograft in a child who would otherwise succumb to a terminal liver disease.
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