Cardiac transplants increasingly occur following placement of ventricular assist devices (VADs). A strong association exists between human leukocyte antigen (HLA) sensitization and VAD placement; however, desensitization protocols that utilize therapeutic plasma exchange (TPE) are fraught with technical challenges and are at increased risk of adverse events. In response to increased VAD utilization in our pre-transplant population, we developed a new institutional standard for TPE in the operating room.
Through a multidisciplinary effort, we developed an institutional protocol for intraoperative TPE immediately prior to cardiac transplantation after cannulation onto cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB). All procedures used the standard TPE protocol on the Terumo Optia (Terumo BCT, Lakewood, CO, USA), but incorporated multiple modifications to limit patients’ bypass times, and to coordinate with the surgical teams. These modifications included deliberate misidentification of replacement fluid and maximization of the citrate infusion rate.
These adjustments allowed the machine to run at maximal inlet speeds, minimizing duration of TPE. To date, 11 patients have been treated with this protocol. All survived their cardiac transplantation operation. Hypocalcemia and hypotension were noted; however, none of these adverse events appeared to have clinical impact. Technical complications included unexpected fibrin deposition in the TPE circuit and air in the inlet line due to surgical manipulation of the CPB cannula. No thromboembolic complications occurred in any patient.
We feel that this procedure can be rapidly and safely performed in HLA sensitized pediatric patients on CPB to limit the risk of antibody mediated rejection of their heart transplant.