A lung transplant is a type of surgery performed for someone who has a diseased lung, such as from cancer or infection. During a lung transplant, the diseased lung is removed and replaced with a healthy lung from a deceased organ donor. Anyone who is likely to die from lung disease in 1-2 years will be approved for a lung transplant as long as the donated lung can be located. It is typically the last resort when breathing devices or medications aren’t working.
Who Needs Lung Transplants
If you have a late-stage or severe form of lung disease that’s getting worse and no longer responding to other treatments, you may need a lung transplant. They are commonly used to treat people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), cystic fibrosis (CF), alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AAT deficiency), or pulmonary hypertension (PH). Lung transplants are done in medical centers, usually hospitals, where the staff has excellent transplant experience. You will need to apply for a medical center’s transplant program in order to get on the waiting list for a lung transplant. Your team members will include a thoracic surgeon, pulmonologist, cardiologist, immunologist, respiratory technician, and a transplant coordinator.
Qualifying for a Lung Transplant
You will need to go through a series of exams and tests to determine if you are a right fit for a lung transplant. You will have other team members including a financial coordinator, social workers, and psychiatrist as well as a nutritionist and team of nurses. You will need to be healthy and fit enough for a lung transplant and the recovery period. Your medical history will be reviewed and they will want to make sure you don’t smoke, do drugs, or drink alcohol. You may also be tested for other serious conditions such as HIV, hepatitis, or cancer and will need to know if you have ever had a major chest surgery. Other tests include a lung function test, blood test, chest CT scan, EKG, echocardiography, and a right cardiac catheterization.
Risks of Lung Transplants
The most critical time after getting a lung transplant is the first year. This is when you will have the most risks associated with the transplant. Approximately 78% of people with a lung transplant survive the first year while only 63% survive 3 years, and 51% survive 5 years. Double-lung transplants have a higher survival rate as the average years of survival for double-lung transplants is more than 6 years. The most serious complications from a lung transplant are infection and your body rejecting the new lungs.