The vast majority of infants and children undergoing craniosynostosis correction receive a blood transfusion. The risks of blood transfusion include, but are not limited to, acute hemolytic reactions (approximately 1 of 250,000), human immunodeficiency virus (approximately 1 of 200,000), hepatitis B and C (approximately 1 of 30,000 each), and transfusion-related lung injuries (approximately 1 of 5000). This prospective, single-blinded, randomized
study was undertaken to examine the safety and efficacy of preoperative single weekly dosing with erythropoietin (epoetin alfa) in reducing the rate of transfusion in infants and small children undergoing craniosynostosis repair. A total of 29 patients (<8 years) undergoing craniosynostosis repair were randomized into two groups: one received preoperative erythropoietin (600 U/kg) weekly for 3 weeks, and the other served as a control. All caregivers responsible for blood transfusions were blinded, and strict criteria for transfusion were established. A pediatric hematologist monitored both groups, and all patients received supplemental iron (4 mg/kg). Fourteen patients were randomized to receive erythropoietin, and eight of these 14 patients (57 percent) required transfusion (mean age, 17 months; mean weight, 10.1 kg). Of the six patients not requiring transfusion, three were younger than 12 months old (mean, 6 months). Fourteen of 15 patients (93 percent) in the control group (mean age, 13 months; mean weight, 9.3 kg) required a blood transfusion during the study. The only control patient not requiring transfusion was the eldest (5 years old). The difference between the two groups was statistically significant (Fisher's exact test = 0.03). The control group showed no change in hemoglobin levels from baseline to preoperative levels, but the erythropoietin group increased their average hemoglobin levels from 12.1 to 13.1 g/dl. There were no adverse effects noted among children receiving erythropoietin, nor were there any surgical complications. The authors conclude that the preoperative administration of erythropoietin significantly raised hemoglobin levels and reduced the need for a blood transfusion with craniosynostosis correction. More suggestions are made that may further reduce the need for blood transfusions, and a cost-benefit analysis is discussed.