BACKGROUND: The amount of allogeneic blood transfusion may relate to worse outcome in cardiac surgery. The reinfusion of red blood cells (RBCs) lost by patients, including those of chest drains, is a promising strategy to minimize allogeneic transfusions.

STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: To verify this hypotheis, 1047 cardiac surgery patients were randomly assigned to either traditional intraoperative blood salvage followed by chest drain insertion or intra- and postoperative strategy with the Haemonetics cardioPAT system. Allogeneic RBC transfusion rate (primary endpoint) and postoperative complications (secondary endpoint) were recorded at the time of discharge from the hospital and at first month follow-up visit, respectively.

RESULTS: The cardioPAT arm received 1.20 units of allogeneic RBCs per patient, whereas the control group required 2.11 units per patient, and this difference proved to be highly significant (p = 0.02). We observed a comparable 45-day mortality rate but a lower rate of deep vein thrombosis (p = 0.04) and atrial fibrillation (p = 0.04) in the cardioPAT arm.

DISCUSSION: A significant reduction in patient exposure to allogeneic RBCs was observed in the cardioPAT system arm. Complications were slightly less frequent in the cardioPAT group. The use of the cardioPAT is a safe and effective strategy to reduce allogeneic RBC transfusions in cardiac surgery.