Changing Pattern of Organ Donation at a Single Center: Are Potential Brain Dead Donors Being Lost to Donation After Cardiac Death?


Corresponding author: James F. Markmann,


Donation after cardiac death (DCD) has proven effective at increasing the availability of organs for transplantation. We performed a retrospective examination of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) records of all 201 donors from 1/1/98 to the 11/2008, including 54 DCD, 115 DBD and 32 DCD candidates that did not progress to donation (DCD-dnp). Comparing three time periods, era 1 (01/98–12/02), era 2 (01/03–12/05) and era 3 (01/06–11/08), DCD's comprised 14.8, 48.4% and 60% of donors, respectively (p = 0.002). A significant increase in the incidence of cardiovascular/cerebrovascular as cause of death was evident in era 3 versus eras 1 and 2; 74% versus 57.1% (p < 0.001), as was a corresponding decrease in the incidence of traumatic death. Interestingly, we noted an increase in utilization of aggressive neurological management over time, especially in the DCD group.

We detected significant changes in the make-up of the donor pool over the past decade. That the changes in diagnosis over time did not differ between DCD and DBD groups suggests this difference is not responsible for the increase in DCD rates. Instead, we suggest that changes in clinical practice, especially in management of patients with severe brain injury may account for the increased proportion of DCD.