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Original article

Vol. 153 No. 1 (2023)

Procedures of brain death diagnosis and organ explantation in a tertiary medical centre – a retrospective eight-year cohort study

  • Pascale Grzonka
  • Sira M. Baumann
  • Kai Tisljar
  • Sabina Hunziker
  • Stephan Marsch
  • Raoul Sutter
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2023;153:40029


AIMS OF THE STUDY: To assess the frequency and variables associated with the need for ancillary tests to confirm suspected brain death in adult patients, and to assess the time from brain death to organ explantation in donors. We further sought to identify modifiable factors influencing the time between brain death and start of surgery.

METHODS: Medical records and the Swiss organ allocation system registry were screened for all consecutive adult patients diagnosed with brain death at an intensive care unit of a Swiss tertiary medical centre from 2013 to 2020. The frequency and variables associated with the performance of ancillary tests (i.e., transcranial doppler, digital subtraction angiography, and computed tomography angiography) to confirm brain death were primary outcomes; the time from death to organ explantation as well as modifying factors were defined as secondary outcomes.

RESULTS: Among 91 patients with a diagnosis of brain death, 15 were not explanted and did not undergo further ancillary tests. Of the remaining 76 patients, who became organ donors after brain death, ancillary tests were performed in 24%, most frequently in patients with hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy. The leading presumed causes of death (not mutually exclusive) were haemorrhagic strokes (49%), hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathies (33%) and severe traumatic brain injuries (22%). Surgery for organ explantation was started within a median of 16 hours (interquartile range [IQR] 13–18) after death with delay increasing over time (nonparametric test for trend p = 0.05), mainly due to organ allocation procedures. Patients with brain death confirmed during night shifts were explanted earlier (during night shifts 14.3 hours, IQR 11.8–16.8 vs 16.3 hours, IQR 13.5–18.5 during day shifts; p = 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: Ancillary tests to confirm brain death are frequently performed, mainly in resuscitated patients. The delay to surgery for organ explantation after confirmed brain death was longer during day shifts, increased over time and was mainly determined by organ allocation procedures.

The trial was registered on clinical (identifier: NCT03984981)


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