Use of CPAP as an alternative to the apnea test during the determination of brain death in hypoxemic patients. Report of two cases
ABSTRACT The apnea test, which involves disconnection from the mechanical ventilator, presents risks during the determination of brain death, especially in hypoxemic patients. We describe the performance of the apnea test without disconnection from the mechanical ventilator in two patients. The first case involved an 8-year-old boy admitted with severe hypoxemia due to pneumonia. He presented with cardiorespiratory arrest, followed by unresponsive coma due to hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. Two clinical exams revealed the absence of brainstem reflexes, and transcranial Doppler ultrasound revealed brain circulatory arrest. Three attempts were made to perform the apnea test, which were interrupted by hypoxemia; therefore, the apnea test was performed without disconnection from the mechanical ventilator, adjusting the continuous airway pressure to 10cmH2O and the inspired fraction of oxygen to 100%. The oxygen saturation was maintained at 100% for 10 minutes. Posttest blood gas analysis results were as follows: pH, 6.90; partial pressure of oxygen, 284.0mmHg; partial pressure of carbon dioxide, 94.0mmHg; and oxygen saturation, 100%. The second case involved a 43-year-old woman admitted with subarachnoid hemorrhage (Hunt-Hess V and Fisher IV). Two clinical exams revealed unresponsive coma and absence of all brainstem reflexes. Brain scintigraphy showed no radioisotope uptake into the brain parenchyma. The first attempt at the apnea test was stopped after 5 minutes due to hypothermia (34.9°C). After rewarming, the apnea test was repeated without disconnection from the mechanical ventilator, showing maintenance of the functional residual volume with electrical bioimpedance. Posttest blood gas analysis results were as follows: pH, 7.01; partial pressure of oxygen, 232.0mmHg; partial pressure of carbon dioxide, 66.9mmHg; and oxygen saturation, 99.0%. The apnea test without disconnection from the mechanical ventilator allowed the preservation of oxygenation in both cases. The use of continuous airway pressure during the apnea test seems to be a safe alternative in order to maintain alveolar recruitment and oxygenation during brain death determination.