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Spontaneous and reflex movements after diagnosis of clinical brain death: A lesson from acute encephalopathy

      Abstract

      Background

      Organ transplantation after brain death (BD) of the donor has been promoted in many countries as an established medical treatment. However, some problems with brain-dead organ transplantation have been reported. For example, there is no evidence as to the optimal observation period for a diagnosis and no evidence to support the interpretation of the various body movements observed after the determination of BD.

      Case report

      A previously healthy 17-month-old girl with severe febrile convulsive status was transferred to our intensive care unit. The convulsions were refractory and the patient required respiratory management due to whole brain edema on head CT. Later she was diagnosed with acute encephalopathy. The patient showed a flat EEG, no responses on auditory brainstem responses (ABR), and loss of brainstem reflexes on repeated daily examinations. No apnea test was performed. Based on the diagnosis of clinical BD, coordinator of Japan Organ Transplant Network explained about organ donation on the 17th day of the disease. Subsequently, the family responded that they could not consent to organ donation, and the patient did not proceed to the legal BD determination. Around five weeks after the onset, spontaneous body movements began to appear, as not only the spinal reflexes but also the brainstem involvement.

      Conclusion

      The pathophysiology of acute encephalopathy is largely unknown, and it is difficult to determine the observation period necessary for BD determination. What we have learned from this case is that clinical BD remains ambiguous and cannot be confirmed even with a thorough neurological examination, EEG, and ABR.

      Keywords

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