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Lung transplant is surgery to replace a diseased lung with a healthy lung. During this operation, doctors put a healthy lung from a deceased donor into a recipient who has advanced lung disease.

There are several lung diseases that can progress to advanced lung disease. These include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): Chronic bronchitis which is inflammation in the airways and emphysema which is a loss of functional air sacs.
  • Cystic fibrosis: A genetic disease that causes a build-up of thick mucus in the lungs and other parts of the body.
  • Pulmonary fibrosis: Scarring of the lungs from an unknown cause or from certain inflammatory/autoimmune diseases.
  • Pulmonary hypertension: Abnormal arteries in the lungs that lead to high blood pressure and right heart failure.

Doctors may recommend lung transplant when medications and other treatments no longer help. A transplant evaluation team will meet with you to see if you are a good candidate for this surgery. Depending on the health of your lungs, doctors may recommend single lung transplantation or double lung transplantation.

What Is Double Lung Transplantation?

During double lung transplant , doctors replace both of the recipient’s diseased lungs with healthy lungs from a donor. Double lung transplant is a more common surgery than single lung transplant. Doctors may choose a single lung transplant if receiving a double lung transplant is too high risk or if only a single lung is available for transplant.

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Is Lung Transplant Right for Me?

You’ll need to meet certain criteria to qualify for lung transplant. These criteria include:

  • Having a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or less.
  • Being cancer free for at least five years (certain types of cancer may be OK).
  • Not having any other significant medical problems if you are over age 70.
  • Not smoking or using tobacco products, vaping, or chewing nicotine gum.
  • Avoiding marijuana and other substances.

If your doctor recommends you have a lung transplant, you’ll meet with a transplant team. You will:

  • Talk with a lung doctor (pulmonologist) and transplant surgeon about your health.
  • Meet with social workers and psychologists to be sure you understand the impacts of lung transplant and have caregivers to help you.
  • Take a lung transplant education class.
  • Provide blood samples.
  • Have diagnostic tests like x-rays and pulmonary function tests.
  • Have your heart and lung function checked.

It’s important that you’re willing to make any needed changes to your lifestyle. You’ll need to live a healthy lifestyle even before donor lungs become available so your body is ready for surgery.

What Are the Risks of Double Lung Transplantation?

Whether doctors recommend single lung transplant or double lung transplant, you must understand the risks. After surgery, you might experience:

  • Bleeding or infection.
  • Trouble with lung function (known as primary graft dysfunction).
  • Rejection of the donated lung.

Many people have years of good health after lung transplant. Survival is similar in single and double lung transplants, with a median lung transplant survival rate of about 7 years after surgery. It’s important to know that some people live less than this while others live for many more years.

How Long Will I Wait for Double Lung Transplantation?

As soon as you’re approved for a lung transplant, the transplant team adds your name to the national waiting list. When lungs become available from a deceased donor, the organs are allocated based on:

  • How sick you are.
  • Your blood type.
  • Your geographic location and the location of the donated lungs.
  • The size of the donated lung(s).

How Will I Recover After Double Lung Transplant Surgery?

You’ll be in the hospital for a month or so after surgery. You’ll stay on a ventilator to help you breathe until you’re able to breathe on your own. You’ll also begin taking immunosuppressant medication so your body won’t reject your new lungs.

As you get stronger, you’ll get up and move around to facilitate air flow and strengthen your respiratory muscles. You may also have therapy services such as:

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Speech and swallowing therapy.

Expect to stay close to the transplant center during the months following your surgery. It’s important to have a trusted caregiver (or team of caregivers) who can help you manage after surgery. You’ll continue to see your doctor for follow-up care regularly as you recover.

Sources

MedlinePlus, COPD, https://medlineplus.gov/copd.html

MedlinePlus, Cystic Fibrosis, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000107.htm

MedlinePlus, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000069.htm

MedlinePlus, Sarcoidosis, https://medlineplus.gov/sarcoidosis.html

UMPC Transplant Services, Who Is a Lung Transplant Candidate?, https://www.upmc.com/services/transplant/lung/candidates

UPMC Transplant Services, Lung Transplant Surgery Frequently Asked Questions, https://www.upmc.com/services/transplant/lung/process/faq

United Network for Organ Sharing, How We Match Organs, https://unos.org/transplant/how-we-match-organs/

About Transplant Services

For more than four decades, UPMC Transplant Services has been a leader in organ transplantation. Our clinicians have performed more than 20,000 organ transplant procedures, making UPMC one of the foremost organ transplant centers in the world. We are home to some of the world’s foremost transplant experts and take on some of the most challenging cases. Through research, we have developed new therapies that provide our patients better outcomes — so organ recipients can enjoy better health with fewer restrictions. Above all, we are committed to providing compassionate, complete care that can change – and save – our patients’ lives. Visit our website to find a provider near you.