The hearts of patients who were positive for COVID-19 appear to be as safe for transplantation as those without the disease. The result comes from a short-term analysis, lasting about one year, from a database showing heart transplants in the United States. The findings are good news, as they suggest that more safe transplants are possible. Over 3,400 people are waiting for a heart in the US today.
The work compared 3,205 heart transplants from COVID-19-negative patients and 84 from COVID-19-positive patients between February 2021 and March 2022. They found that the recipients of the organs had similar mortality rates and complications in both groups.
“These findings suggest that we may be able to be more aggressive about accepting donors that are positive for COVID-19 when patients are in dire need of an organ for heart transplantation,” study author Samuel T. Kim, B.A., a third-year medical student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California in Los Angeles, said in a statement.
The team found that the average hospital stay for people who received a heart from a COVID-positive donor was 15 days, versus 17 for the negative group. Organ rejection occurred in 2.4 percent of the cases for the positives and 1 percent for the negatives. Among the group of 84, 96.1 percent of people survived the first 30 days. The control had a survival rate of 97 percent. The difference between each set of numbers is not statistically significant.
“These findings provide evidence that outcomes were similar at 30-days post-transplant among patients who received COVID-19-positive donor hearts, so the potential risks appear to be lower than expected,” added Dr Eldrin F. Lewis from Stanford University. “In turn, this may help to address the shortages in donor hearts for transplantation and reduce waiting times, since people often get sicker as heart failure progresses while waiting for a donor heart to become available.”
The team also report that of the four patients who died after receiving a heart from a COVID-19-positive person, none of them had died due to respiratory causes or infections. The team saw this as surprising.
“Specifically, we thought death from respiratory or lung-related causes would be a problem among recipients receiving donor hearts with COVID-19,” Kim said. “Yet, we found no such differences, and in fact, this study offers early evidence that COVID-19-positive donor hearts may be as safe as hearts without COVID-19 for heart transplantation.”
The findings will be presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2022.