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Open Access Research article

Circumstances surrounding dying in the paediatric intensive care unit

Jetske ten Berge1, Dana-Anne H de Gast-Bakker2 and Frans B Plötz3*

Author Affiliations

1 BSc, Department of Paediatric Intensive Care, VU Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

2 Paediatrician, fellow paediatric intensive care, Department of Paediatric Intensive Care, VU Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 Paediatric intensivist, Department of Paediatric Intensive Care, VU Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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BMC Pediatrics 2006, 6:22  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-6-22

Published: 7 August 2006

Abstract

Background

Death is inevitable in the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU). We aimed to describe the circumstances surrounding dying in a PICU.

Method

The chart records of all patients less than 18 years of age who died at the PICU between January first 2000 and July first 2005 were retrospectively analyzed. Information regarding sex, age, length of stay, admission, diagnosis, and the way a patient died was registered. Post mortem information regarding natural versus unnatural death, autopsy and donation was obtained. Non-survivors were allocated in five groups: do-not-resuscitate (DNR), withholding and/or withdrawal of therapy (W/W), failed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (failed CPR), brain death (BD), and terminal organ failure (TOF).

Results

During the study period 87 (4.4%) of the 1995 admitted patients died. Non-survivors were more often admitted during the day (54%) and the week (68%). W/W was found in 27.6%, TOF in 26.4%, BD in 23.0%, failed CPR in 18.4%, and DNR in 4.6%. Forty-three percent died in the first two days, of which BD (40.5%) and failed CPR (37.8%) were most common. Seventy-five children (86%) died due to a natural cause. Autopsy permission was obtained in 19 of 54 patients (35%). The autopsies confirmed the clinical diagnosis in 11 patients, revealed new information in 5 patients, and in 3 patients the autopsy did not provide additional information. Nine patients were medically suitable for organ donation and 24 patients for tissue donation, whereas consent was only obtained in 2 cases in both groups.

Conclusion

We observed that 43% of the patients died within the first two days of admission due to BD and failed CPR, whereas after 4 days most patients died after W/W. Autopsy remains an useful tool to confirm clinical diagnoses or to provide new information. Only a small percentage of the deceased children is suitable for organ donation.