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Purpose: The purpose of this study was to ascertain a strategy for maximizing parental consent for organ donation in traumatically injured children suffering from brain death. Our hypothesis was that appropriate attending surgeon involvement and delay in evaluating children for brain death leads to an increased percentage of organ donors.

Methods: From January 1993 to August 1999, the records of all children who died in a Level I trauma center were evaluated. Those children suffering brain death that were suitable for organ donation were entered into the study. Cases were reviewed for patient demographics, time to entry into brain death protocol (measured from time of admission), time to parent notification about brain death (measured from time of admission), specific attending involved in the case (with level of involvement), and success of organ donation request. In all, 43 charts were reviewed.

Results: Of 43 deaths, 33 were deemed suitable for donation. Age of suitable donors ranged from 1 month to 18 years. In all, 11 attending physicians were involved in the care of these children. Overall, 20 of 33 were organ donors (60%). When the attending surgeon was involved, donation success for organ retrieval was 86%, whereas if the attending was not involved personally, the success rate dropped to 23% (p < 0.04). One senior pediatric surgeon obtained a success rate of 12 of 12 children. It was this surgeon's policy to not initiate brain death protocols in children immediately on entry into the emergency room, but rather to delay initiation until family could be gathered and spend time with the affected child in order that the family could recover from the initial shock of trauma (always at least overnight). When time to initiation of brain death protocol was examined, success was obtained when a delay of 15.5 hours was respected, versus 7.0 hours when donation was requested but denied (p < 0.03).

Conclusion: These data indicate that attending involvement is important when parents of brain dead children are asked about organ retrieval (p < 0.04). Delay in initiating brain death protocols in order for family members to deal with the shock of the initial trauma appears to increase willingness to participate in organ donation.

(C) 2001 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.