The wait for a heart transplant varies widely based on factors such as availability of donor hearts and blood type, but little is known about differences in wait times based on race and ethnicity.
Now, preliminary research suggests African-American patients may experience longer wait times than other racial and ethnic groups.
Who gets a donor heart each time one becomes available is based on objective criteria such as blood type, body size and how urgently a patient needs a transplant. Wait times, which are partially driven by the geographic availability of donor organs, are generally months long.
In the study, presented Saturday at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions conference in Chicago, researchers looked at people awaiting their first heart transplant between 2005 and 2016. Of the 36,801 patients, about 67 percent were white, 22 percent were African-American and 8 percent were Hispanic.
The wait time peaked in 2014 for patients across all racial and ethnic groups but was disproportionately longer for African-American patients — a median of 19.8 months compared with 12 months for white patients and 12.3 months for Hispanic patients. The disparity was less pronounced in the years that followed. In 2016, for example, median wait time was 10.1 months for African-American patients, eight months for white patients, and 7.4 months for Hispanic patients.
“After adjusting for some of the variables that could impact wait time like age, blood type and geographical region, the time to transplant was observed to be longer for African-Americans compared to whites,” said Dr. Anuradha Lala, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York City.
Lala cautioned that it’s too early to draw definite conclusions about what caused the difference in wait time. The findings, she said, did not account for other factors that may have had an impact.