Background: Pancreas transplants are still associated with the highest surgical complication rate of all routinely performed solid organ transplants. To date, the impact of serious surgical complications in the cyclosporine era on perioperative patient morbidity, graft and patient survival, and hospital costs has not been analyzed in detail. Study Design: We retrospectively studied surgical complications after 445 consecutive pancreas transplants (45% simultaneous pancreas-kidney [SPK], 24% pancreas after kidney [PAK], and 31% pancreas transplant alone [PTA]). Of these, 80% were primary transplants, 20% were retransplants. Cadaver donors were used in 92%, living related donors in 8%. To develop guidelines for their prevention and management, we studied the impact of significant surgical complications (intraabdominal infections, vascular graft thrombosis, and anastomotic leak) requiring relaparotomy on graft and patient survival. Results: Relaparotomy was required after 32% of all pancreas transplants (SPK: 36%, PAK: 25%, PTA: 16% [p = 0.04]). Perioperative mortality was 9%. Graft and patient survival rates were significantly lower for recipients with (versus without) relaparotomy. The most common procedures were drainage of intra-abdominal abscess with graft necrosectomy (50% of all relaparotomies) and transplant pancreatectomy (34%). The most common causes of relaparotomy were intra- abdominal infection, vascular graft thrombosis, and anastomotic leak. Intra- abdominal infection occurred in 20% (SPK: 18%, PAK: 24%, PTA: 20% [p = NS]). The rate was significantly higher for living related donor (42%) versus cadaver donor (18%) recipients and for those with enteric-drained (39%) versus bladder-drained (18%) transplants. Graft and patient survival rates were significantly lower for recipients with (versus without) intraabdominal infection. Outcome was better after bacterial (versus fungal) infections. For SPK recipients, those not on dialysis before the transplant had significantly higher graft survival than those on dialysis. Vascular graft thrombosis occurred in 12% of all recipients. The rate was significantly higher for PAK (21%) than for PTA (10%) and SPK (9%) recipients. It was significantly lower for recipients of grafts with donor iliac Y-graft reconstruction (versus all other types of arterial reconstruction) and with right-sided (versus left- sided) graft placement. Of note, patient survival was not different for recipients with versus without vascular graft thrombosis. The incidence of anastomotic or duodenal stump leaks was 10%; of these recipients, 70% required relaparotomy. Patient and graft survival rates were no different for recipients with versus without leaks. Conclusions: Serious surgical complications occurred in 35% of pancreas recipients and had a significant impact on patient and graft survival. Based on multivariate risk factor analyses, we recommend the following: donors over 45 years and those dying of cerebrocardiovascular disease should not be used; recipients over 45 years and those with a history of cardiac disease should be considered for a kidney transplant alone (KTA); surgical technique for graft procurement, preparation, and implantation should be meticulous; right-sided implantation and arterial Y-graft reconstruction should be performed when possible, since they had the highest success rates; when complications require relaparotomy, the focus must switch from graft salvage to life preservation; and the threshold for pancreatectomy should be low. Diagnosis should be timely, and treatment and relaparotomy expeditious. These cornerstones of success should help decrease the risk of surgical complications and mortality after pancreas transplants.
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