COVID-19 Resource Center
COVID-19 Resource Center
Perspective from Frank Smart, MD
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
July 22, 2020
2 min read

Heart transplantation, deceased donor recovery rates drop amid pandemic

Perspective from Frank Smart, MD
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
You've successfully added to your alerts. You will receive an email when new content is published.

Click Here to Manage Email Alerts

We were unable to process your request. Please try again later. If you continue to have this issue please contact

Researchers reported significant fluctuations in heart transplant waitlist inactivations, waitlist additions, donor recoveries and transplant volume since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March.

Ersilia M. DeFilippis

“Understandably, there has been increasing emphasis and accumulation of data regarding treatment and complications of COVID-19,” Ersilia M. DeFilippis, MD, fellow in cardiovascular medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, told Healio. “However, there are equally important effects on care delivery for uninfected patients with acute and chronic medical conditions. Despite regional variation in COVID-19 prevalence, the rate of heart transplantation decreased nationally without significant variation between areas of the country. This highlights that although the pandemic had clear impact on regional changes in practice, there were still unforeseen consequences for patients waiting for heart transplant in other areas of the country.”

Source: Adobe Stock.

For this cross-sectional study, published in JAMA Cardiology, investigators used publicly available data from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) and the CDC to assess changes in waitlist inactivations and additions, deceased donor recovery and transplant volumes from the pre-COVID-19 period of Jan. 19 to March 15 compared with the COVID-19 period of March 15 to May 9.

Waitlist inactivations increase as new additions drop

Researchers observed that from the pre-COVID-19 to the COVID-19 period, waitlist inactivations increased by 75%, of which 67% were due to COVID-19 precaution.

During the COVID-19 era, new additions to the heart transplant waitlist decreased by 38% compared with the prior 8-week period.

Investigators observed that all regions in the U.S., with the exception of the South, Midwest and Northwest, experienced drops in new waitlist additions, with the largest decreases reported in the Northeast (69% decrease), Great Lakes (52% decrease) and the Southwest (42% decrease). Meanwhile in the South Midwest, heart transplant waitlist additions increased by 8.5%.

“The decrease in waitlist inactivations was not particularly surprising given our experience in the Northeast where many patients were removed from the waitlist with the exception of the sickest patients with presumed waitlist mortality of 1 to 2 weeks,” DeFilippis said in an interview. “With regard to waitlist additions, we suspect that many evaluations for heart transplantation (which require multiple consultations with specialists and outpatient testing) had been delayed due to restrictions on elective procedures and minimizing outpatient encounters.”

Drops in deceased donor recovery

Overall, adult deceased donor recovery decreased by 26% between the two periods. This change was observed on a national level, even in regions with lower prevalence of COVID-19 infection.

Moreover, the largest drop was found in the North Midwest with a decrease in deceased donor recovery of 41%.

“COVID-19 was present in some communities earlier than March 2020. Therefore, some waitlist inactivations before March 15, 2020, may have been secondary to COVID-19 but were unable to be coded as such in UNet (the electronic system managed by UNOS that allows transplant professionals to submit, store and manage transplant-associated data),” the researchers wrote. “Nevertheless, we also examined overall trends in inactivations. Donor COVID-19 status was not available for analysis.”

According to the study, heart transplant volume decreased by 26% across the U.S. from the pre-COVID-19 era to the COVID-19 era. In addition, there was no regional variation in transplant volume fluctuation amid the COVID-19 era (17% change in the Southeast vs. 19% in the Southwest; P = .07).

“As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in different areas of the country, the patterns visualized in the Northeast and Great Lakes may replicate themselves in other areas,” Defilippis told Healio. “In the coming months to years, it will be important to assess if there were any changes in waitlist survival for patients or changes in patterns of left ventricular assist device implantation. Similarly, those who did receive heart transplantation represented the sickest patients and this may impact post-transplant survival.”