Left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) are continuous or pulsatile flow devices that could potentially be life-saving measures for patients with end-stage heart failure. These devices have clear advantages over extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and are often used in adults. They are only recently being commonly used in the pediatric age group. As the use of LVADs becomes more mainstream in children, it is important to determine the complication profile associated with these devices. Furthermore, with the increasing application of LVADs in children, pediatric neurosurgeons are seeing a correlative increase in associated neurological complications. In this study, the authors reviewed the incidence of neurological complications due to LVAD use in the pediatric age group and the role of neurosurgery in treatment.
The authors examined data regarding patients with LVADs from the Texas Children's Hospital Heart Center database (July 01, 2007, to June 30, 2011) and recorded neurological complications requiring neurosurgical consultation. They identified 2 children who underwent craniotomies during LVAD treatment.
Intracranial hemorrhage occurred in 3 (6.5%) of the 46 patients treated with an LVAD at the authors' institution. Of these patients, 2 were treated with craniotomies for life-threatening intracranial hemorrhages. The 3 patients in the neurosurgical cohort presented with cerebral infarction, decreased level of consciousness, and/or seizure. At the last follow-up (286, 503, and 550 days), 1 patient (Case 2) had no decline in neurological status, underwent a successful heart transplant, and was discharged home; 1 patient (Case 1) died of refractory cardiac failure; and 1 patient (Case 3) was on an LVAD for destination therapy (that is, the LVAD is not a bridge to transplantation but rather the final treatment). This patient was discharged from the hospital, but he died of overwhelming fungemia at 286 days while on VAD support.
Intracranial hemorrhage is a serious and feared complication of LVAD treatment. While the surgical risk is substantial due to systemic anticoagulation and significant medical comorbidities, neurosurgical evacuation of hemorrhage plays an important life-saving role that can yield successful and acceptable outcomes.