Is a Lung Transplant?
A lung transplant is surgery that replaces a diseased or failing
lung with a healthy donor lung.
According to data from the Organ
Procurement and Transplantation Network, there have been more than 30,800
lung transplants completed in the United States since 1988. The majority of
those surgeries were in patients age 18 to 64 years old.
The survival rate for lung-transplant patients has improved in
recent years. According to the National
Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the one-year survival rate is
nearly 80 percent. The five-year survival rate is more than 50 percent. Twenty
years ago, those numbers were much lower.
Survival rates vary by facility. When researching where to have
your surgery, it’s important to ask about the facility’s survival rates.
a Lung Transplant Is Done
A lung transplant is considered the last option for treating lung
failure. Other treatments and lifestyle changes will almost always be tried
Conditions that may damage your lungs enough to require a
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- cystic fibrosis
- pulmonary fibrosis
- pulmonary hypertension
Risks of a Lung Transplant
A lung transplant is major surgery. It comes with many risks.
Before the surgery, your doctor should discuss with you whether the risks
associated with the procedure outweigh the benefits. You should also talk about
what you can do to reduce your risks.
The major risk of a lung transplant is organ rejection. This happens when
your immune system attacks your donor lung as if it were a disease. Severe
rejection could lead to failure of the donated lung.
Other serious complications can arise from the drugs used to
prevent rejection. These are called immunosuppressants. They work by lowering
your immune response, making it less likely that your body will attack the new
“foreign” lung. Immunosuppressants raise your risk of infections, since your
body’s “guard” is lowered.
Other risks of lung transplant surgery include:
- bleeding and blood clots
- cancer and malignancies due to
- kidney damage
- stomach problems
- thinning of your bones (osteoporosis)
It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions before and
after your surgery. This can help decrease your risks. Instructions will
include making healthy lifestyle choices, such as adopting a healthy diet and not
smoking. You should also avoid missing any doses of medications.
to Prepare for a Lung Transplant
The emotional toll of waiting for a donor lung can be difficult.
Once you’ve undergone the necessary tests and met qualifying
criteria, you’ll be placed on a waiting list for a donor lung. Your waiting
time on the list depends on the following:
- availability of a matching lung
- blood type
- geographic distance between donor and recipient
- the severity of your condition
- the size of the donor lung
- your overall health
You will undergo numerous laboratory and imaging tests. You may
also undergo emotional and financial counseling. Your doctor needs to make sure
you’re fully prepared for the aftereffects of the procedure.
Your doctor will give you complete instructions on how to best
prepare for your surgery. If you’re waiting on a donor lung, it’s good to have
your bags packed well in advance. The notice that an organ is available could
come at any time. Also, make sure to keep all of your contact information
up-to-date at the hospital. They need to be able to contact you when a donor
lung is available.
You will be notified when a donor lung is available. You’ll be
instructed to report to the transplant facility immediately.
a Lung Transplant Is Performed
When you and your donor lung arrive at the hospital, you’ll be
prepared for surgery. This includes changing into a hospital gown, receiving an
IV, and undergoing general anesthesia. This will put you into an induced sleep.
You will awaken in a recovery room after your new lung is in place.
Your surgical team will insert a tube into your windpipe to help
you breathe. Another tube may be inserted into your nose. It will drain your
stomach contents. A catheter will be used to keep your bladder empty.
You may also be put on a heart-lung machine. This device pumps
your blood and oxygenates your blood for you during your surgery.
During the surgery, your surgeon will make a large incision in
your chest. Through this incision, your old lung will be removed. Your new lung
will be connected to your main airway and blood vessels.
When the new lung is working properly, the incision will be
closed. You will be moved to an intensive care unit (ICU) to recover.
According to the National
Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a typical single-lung procedure
can take between four and eight hours. A double-lung transfer can take up to 12
Up After a Lung Transplant
You can expect to remain in the ICU for a few days after the
procedure. Your vital signs will need to be closely monitored. You’ll likely be
hooked up to a mechanical ventilator to help you breathe. Tubes will also be
connected to your chest to drain any fluid buildup.
Your entire stay at the hospital could last weeks, but it may be
shorter. How long you stay will depend on how well you recover.
Over the next three months, you’ll have regular appointments with
your lung transplant team. They will monitor any signs of infection, rejection,
or other problems. You will be required to live close to the transplant center.
Before you leave the hospital, you’ll be given instructions on
how to care for your surgical wound. You will also be told about any
restrictions to follow, and be given medication. Most likely, your medications
will include one or more types of immunosuppressant, such as:
Immunosuppressants are important after your transplant. They help
prevent your body from attacking your new lung. You will likely take these
medications for the rest of your life. However, they leave you open to
infection and other problems. Make sure to talk to your doctor about all the possible
You may also be given:
- antifungal medication
- antiviral medication
- anti-ulcer medication
Clinic reports that the first year after a transplant is the most critical.
This is when the major complications, infection and rejection, are most common.
You can minimize these risks by following your lung transplant team’s
instructions and immediately reporting any complications.
Although lung transplants are risky, they can have substantial
benefits. Depending on your condition, a lung transplant may help you live
longer and improve your quality of life.