Race Matching in Heart Transplants Does Not Improve Survival

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , June 1, 2010

African Americans represent 15% of all heart transplants, so lifting survival rates for this group should focus on anti-rejection drugs and dosages, regimens and scheduled appointments, and education about early signs of infection and organ rejection.

One finding that did stand out was that black recipients had a higher degree of tissue antigen mismatches with their transplanted hearts, 65.4% compared with other groups, which had 55.6%. The better the match the better chance immunosuppressive drugs will prevent organ rejection over the long term.

The researchers also discovered that insurance and education seemed to be linked to different rates of organ rejection within the first year. Patients with public insurance, specifically Medicaid, had a 30% higher risk of needing anti-rejection treatment and a 39% higher risk of dying than transplant recipients with private insurance.

Likewise for transplant recipients on Medicare, who had a 12% higher risk of dying than those with private insurance. Having a college education lowered the overall group’s likelihood of having a rejection-related problem with their transplant by 12%.

The project used statistics collected from the United Network for Organ Sharing, the agency that allocates donated organs across the U.S. It was funded by Johns Hopkins Hospital and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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