BACKGROUND: Demand for organs exceeds the number of transplants available, underscoring the need to optimize organ donation procedures. However, protocols for determining brain death (BD)/death by neurological criteria (DNC) vary considerably worldwide. In Denmark, digital subtraction angiography (DSA) is the only legally approved confirmatory test for diagnosing BD/DNC. We investigated the effect of the time delay caused by (repeat) confirmatory DSA on the number of organs donated by patients meeting clinical criteria for BD/DNC. We hypothesized that, first, patients investigated with ≥2 DSAs donate fewer organs than those investigated with a single DSA; second, radiological interpretation of DSA is subject to interrater variability; and third, residual intracranial circulation is inversely correlated with inotropic blood pressure support.
METHODS: All DSAs performed over a 7-year period as part of BD/DNC protocols at Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark, were included. Clinical data were extracted from electronic health records. DSAs were reinterpreted by an independent neurinterventionist blinded to the original radiological reports.
RESULTS: We identified 130 DSAs in 100 eligible patients. Patients with ≥2 DSAs (n = 20) donated fewer organs (1.7 +/- 1.6 SD) than patients undergoing a single DSA (n = 80, 2.6 +/- 1.7 organs, p = 0.03), and they became less often donors (n = 12, 60%) than patients with just 1 DSA (n = 65, 81.3%; p = 0.04). Interrater agreement of radiological DSA interpretation was 88.5% (Cohen's kappa = 0.76). Patients with self-maintained blood pressure had more often residual intracranial circulation (n = 13/26, 50%) than patients requiring inotropic support (n = 14/74, 18.9%; OR = 0.23, 95% CI [0.09-0.61]; p = 0.002).
DISCUSSION: In potential donors who fulfill clinical BD/DNC criteria, delays caused by repetition of confirmatory DSA result in lost donors and organ transplants. Self-maintained blood pressure at the time of clinical BD/DNC increases the odds for residual intracranial circulation, creating diagnostic uncertainty because radiological DSA interpretation is not uniform. We suggest that avoiding unnecessary repetition of confirmatory investigations like DSA may result in more organs donated.