The case for selective re-issuance of medical certificates to allow pilots who have received a heart transplant to resume flying

David C. McGiffin, Robert Brown, James K. Kirklin, David C. Naftel, Robert C. Bourge, Marc R. Pritzker, Edward K. Kasper, Tracy Stevens, Barry S. Clemson, Andrew L. Smith, James A. Hill, Richard J. Rodeheffer

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Cardiac transplant recipients have been regarded as not medically fit to fly an airplane. Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration decided to re-examine this policy and, in response, this study was undertaken to determine the risk of death from any cause and sudden-onset death in heart transplant recipients during the 12 months after an annual evaluation. Methods: Of 6,510 patients undergoing primary orthotopic cardiac transplantation enrolled in the Cardiac Transplant Research Database (CTRD), 4,978 patients survived for at least 1 year and formed the basis of this study. Risk factors for death from any causes and sudden-onset death (a composite of causes of death that could conceivably result in a pilot's incapacitation) were determined during the 12-month period after an anniversary evaluation. Patients were re-entered into the analysis at each evaluation, resulting in a total of 23,575 anniversary evaluations. Results: The presence of coronary allograft vasculopathy (CAV), left ventricular systolic dysfunction, history of rejection, malignancy, infection and pre-transplant insulin-dependent diabetes were associated with an increased risk of death from any cause and sudden-onset death during the 12-month period after an evaluation. Based on the absence of these risk factors, a group of heart transplant recipients could be defined with a 12-month risk of death from any cause of 1.0% and of sudden-onset death of 0.3% (which is identical to the mortality rate of a matched population from the U.S. life-table). Conclusion: Using these identified risk factors, a group of heart transplant recipients can be defined that are potentially medically certifiable to fly without compromising aviation safety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-269
Number of pages11
JournalThe Journal of Heart and Lung Transplantation
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2005
Externally publishedYes

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