Impact of new allocation policy on waitlist and transplant outcomes of adult congenital heart patients supported with ECMO

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Artificial organs




ECMO; adult congenital heart disease; outcomes; policy; transplant; waitlist


BACKGROUND: The use of ECMO as a bridge to heart transplantation has been growing rapidly in all heart transplant recipients since the implementation of the new UNOS allocation policy; however, the impact on adult congenital heart disease (ACHD) patients is not known. METHODS: We analyzed the UNOS data (2015-2021) for ACHD patients supported with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) during the waitlist, before and after October 2018, to assess the impact on the waitlist and posttransplant outcomes. We compared the characteristics and outcomes of ACHD patients with or without ECMO use during the waitlist and pre- and postpolicy changes. RESULTS: A total of 23 821 patients underwent heart transplantation, and only 918 (4%) had ACHD. Out of all ACHD patients undergoing heart transplants, 6% of patients in the prepolicy era and 7.6% in the postpolicy era were on ECMO at the time of listing. Those on ECMO were younger and sicker compared to the rest of the ACHD cohort. Those on ECMO had similar profiles pre- and postpolicy change; however, there was a very significant decrease in the waitlist time [136 days (IQR 29-384) vs. 38 days (IQR 11-108), p = 0.01]. There was no difference in waitlist mortality; however, competing risk analyses showed a higher likelihood of transplantation (51% vs. 29%) and a lower likelihood of death or deterioration (31% vs. 42%) postpolicy change. Long-term outcomes posttransplant for those supported with ECMO compared to the non-ECMO cohort are similar for ACHD patients, although there was higher attrition in the first year for the ECMO cohort. CONCLUSION: The new allocation policy has resulted in shorter waitlist times and a higher likelihood of transplantation for ACHD patients supported by ECMO. However, the appropriate use of ECMO and the underuse of durable circulatory support devices in this population need further exploration.