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Unexpected deaths and unplanned re-admissions in infants discharged home after cardiac surgery: a systematic review of potential risk factors

  • Jenifer Tregay (a1), Jo Wray (a1), Catherine Bull (a1), Rodney C. Franklin (a2), Piers Daubeney (a2), David J. Barron (a3), Katherine Brown (a1) and Rachel L. Knowles (a4)...



Babies with CHDs are a particularly vulnerable population with significant mortality in their 1st year. Although most deaths occur in the hospital within the early postoperative period, around one-fifth of postoperative deaths in the 1st year of life may occur after hospital discharge in infants who have undergone apparently successful cardiac surgery.


To systematically review the published literature and identify risk factors for adverse outcomes, specifically deaths and unplanned re-admissions, following hospital discharge after infant surgery for life-threatening CHDs.


A systematic search was conducted in MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, Cochrane Library, Web of Knowledge, and PsycINFO electronic databases, supplemented by manual searching of conference abstracts.


A total of 15 studies were eligible for inclusion. Almost exclusively, studies were conducted in single US centres and focussed on children with complex single ventricle diagnoses. A wide range of risk factors were evaluated, and those more frequently identified as having a significant association with higher mortality or unplanned re-admission risk were non-Caucasian ethnicity, lower socio-economic status, co-morbid conditions, age at surgery, operative complexity and procedure type, and post-operative feeding difficulties.


Studies investigating risk factors for adverse outcomes post-discharge following diverse congenital heart operations in infants are lacking. Further research is needed to systematically identify higher risk groups, and to develop interventions targeted at supporting the most vulnerable infants within an integrated primary and secondary care pathway.


Corresponding author

Correspondence to: Dr RL Knowles, Population, Policy and Practice Programme, Institute of Child Health, University College London, 30 Guilford St, London WC1N 1EH. Tel: +44(0)20 7905 2278; E-mail:


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