Objectives: To study significant surgical complications requiring early (≤3 months posttransplant) relaparotomy (relap) after pancreas transplants, and to develop clinically relevant surgical and peritransplant decision-making guidelines for preventing and managing such complications.
Summary Background Data: Pancreas grafts are still associated with the highest surgical complication rate of all routinely transplanted solid organs. However, the impact of surgical complications on morbidity, hospital costs, and graft and patient survival rates has not been analyzed in detail to date.
Methods: We retrospectively studied surgical complications requiring relap in 441 consecutive cadaver, bladder-drained pancreas transplants (54% simultaneous pancreas and kidney [SPK]; 22% pancreas after kidney [PAK]; 24% pancreas transplant alone [PTA]; 37% retransplant). Outcome and hospital charges were analyzed separately for recipients with versus without reoperation.
Results: The overall relap rate was 32% (SPK, 36%; PAK, 25%; PTA, 16%; p = 0.04). The most common causes were intraabdominal infection and graft pancreatitis (38%), pancreas graft thrombosis (27%), and anastomotic leak (15%). Perioperative relap mortality was 9%; transplant pancreatectomy was necessary in 57% of all recipients with one or more relaps. The pancreas graft was lost in 80% of recipients with versus 41% without relap (p < 0.0001). Patient survival rates were significantly lower (p < 0.05) for recipients with versus without relap. By multivariate analysis, significant risk factors for graft loss included older donor age (SPK, PAK), retransplant (PAK), relap for infection (SPK, PAK), and relap for leak or bleeding (PAK). For death, risk factors included older recipient age (SPK, PAK), retransplant (SPK, PAK), relap for thrombosis (PAK), relap for infection or leak (SPK), and relap for bleeding (PTA).
Conclusions: Posttransplant surgical complications requiring relap were frequent, resulted in a high rate of pancreas (SPK, PAK, PTA) and kidney (SPK, PAK) graft loss, and had a major economic impact (p = 0.0001). Complications were associated with substantial perioperative mortality and decreased patient survival rates. The focus must therefore shift from graft salvage to preservation of the recipient's life once a pancreas graft-related complication requiring relap occurs. Thus, the threshold for pancreatectomy should be low. In this context, acceptance of older donors and recipients must be reconsidered.