What You Need to Know About Lung Transplant Surgery

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung diseases often get worse as time passes. These conditions make it difficult to breathe.

Lung transplant can help people with advanced lung disease live longer. During lung transplant, surgeons remove your diseased lung and replace it with a healthy lung from a donor. After your doctor refers you, a transplant team will check to see if you are a good candidate for this surgery.

You may wonder if lung transplant is right for you or if there is a lung transplant age limit. Doctors consider several important factors when deciding to do this surgery.

Who Can Get a Lung Transplant?

The transplant team will talk with you about your health and lifestyle. You’ll have a series of tests that tell doctors more about your health. Generally, you must:

  • Have a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or less.
  • Be cancer free for at 5 five years (doctors may make exceptions for certain cancers).
  • Not have many other medical problems if you are over age 70.
  • Not smoke or use tobacco of any kind, including vaping, nicotine patches, or gum.
  • Not use substances like marijuana unless it is prescribed by
    a physician or other illegal drugs.

You’ll meet with psychologists, social workers, and other specialists. It’s important that you understand the risks and benefits of lung transplant surgery. You must be willing to make lifestyle changes to keep your new lung(s) healthy.

What Happens After I’m Approved for Lung Transplant?

Once you’re approved for lung transplant, doctors add your name to the national waiting list. When a lung or lungs become available from a deceased donor, the organs are allocated to patients on the list based on:

  • How sick (or healthy) you are.
  • Your blood type.
  • How far away the donor is from your location.
  • The size of the donated lung(s).

While you wait, it’s important to stay ready for lung transplant. Eat a healthy diet, be active, and keep all appointments with your doctors.

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What Happens During Lung Transplant?

Lung transplant is a complex surgery. The operation can take between 6 and 8 hours. If you are having double lung transplant, the surgery may take more than 12 hours.

Surgeons begin by making a cut (incision) in your chest. They disconnect any blood vessels and airways attached to the diseased lung. Doctors may need to put you on a ventilator and bypass machine so your blood will have oxygen during surgery.

Doctors replace the diseased lung (s) with the healthy donated lung (s). When the new organ is in place, doctors connect blood vessels and airways to the new lung (s).

What Happens After Lung Transplant ?

After lung transplant , you’ll move to the intensive care unit (ICU). You’ll stay on a ventilator until doctors decide you can breathe on your own. You’ll also begin taking drugs called immunosuppressants to prevent your immune system from rejecting your new lung(s).

Once you’re strong enough, you’ll move out of the ICU and into a patient room. Over the next 3 to 4 weeks, you will:

  • See the transplant team to make sure you aren’t developing infections.
  • Get out of bed and move to encourage air flow in your lungs and to
    strengthen your breathing and other muscles.

You may begin some specialty therapy services. These include pulmonary rehabilitation to encourage healthy breathing and physical therapy to regain strength. You may work with a speech and swallowing therapist to improve function.

Staying Healthy After Lung Transplant

There are several things you should do to stay healthy after lung transplant. You’ll need to:

  • Stay close to your transplant center for a few months after surgery.
  • Make sure caregivers are with you at all times.
  • Attend all follow-up visits with your doctors.
  • Avoid being around people who are sick.
  • Eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise.
  • Say no to smoking and all nicotine products.

Expect to have some scarring at the incision site after lung transplant. You should also expect to need lots of help with care and everyday tasks for a few months after your surgery.

Sources

UPMC 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

UPMC Transplant Services, Lung Transplant Surgery: Preparation and Procedure, https://www.upmc.com/services/transplant/lung/process/surgery

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Lung Transplant, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/lung-transplant

American Lung Association, Lung Transplant, https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-procedures-and-tests/lung-transplant

United Network of Organ Sharing, Lung, https://transplantliving.org/organ-facts/lung/

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.