For people with severe lung disease, a lung transplant can save lives — and it’s possibly their only treatment option.
During a lung transplant, surgeons replace diseased lungs with healthy ones from a deceased organ donor.
Surgeons perform about 2,700 lung transplants in the United States every year. At times, the process may seem complicated, confusing, and even scary, leaving people on the lung transplant waiting list with several questions.
We sat down with Chadi Hage, MD, medical director of the UPMC Lung Transplant Program, to answer some of those frequently asked questions.
Q: When is the right time to be evaluated for a lung transplant?
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A: Once your condition can no longer be treated with medication or other therapies, your doctor should refer you for a lung transplant evaluation.
Our team recommends early referral and evaluation for people suffering from chronic lung disease. This is because lung diseases can worsen quickly, preparing the patient for lung transplant can take months, and the wait time on the transplant list can be weeks to months before a suitable donor is available.
Chronic lung diseases include:
- COPD and emphysema.
- Pulmonary fibrosis.
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.
- Primary pulmonary hypertension.
- Cystic fibrosis.
- Secondary pulmonary hypertension (caused by other heart or lung disease).
- Scleroderma lung disease.
Q: What is the lung transplant process like at UPMC?
A: The process begins with a review of your medical history, blood work, and other health information to determine the correct treatment for you. If our experts determine that you may be a candidate for the lung transplant waiting list, you will be contacted to schedule an evaluation.
Our lung transplant doctors partner closely with experts from the UPMC Comprehensive Lung Center, so you will work with other doctors and healthcare providers as well. This is to ensure that you receive the multidisciplinary, individualized care that the UPMC Lung Transplant Program is known for.
Once the evaluation is complete, our team will let you know if you are approved for a lung transplant or not, and if other tests or treatments are needed before you are placed on the list.
Q: Will UPMC evaluate me even if I have already been turned down by another lung transplant center?
A: Yes. The UPMC Lung Transplant Program is one of the most experienced lung and heart-lung transplant centers in the United States. Therefore, we can accept high-risk or complex lung transplants that other centers may not be able to perform.
Examples of high-risk and complex lung transplant cases include:
- COVID-19 lung disease
- Patients with congenital lung disease
- Multi-organ transplants such as heart-lung transplants
- Scleroderma lung disease
- Patients with unusual lung infections
Q: Who are members of the UPMC Lung Transplant team?
A: Our team is made up of a multidisciplinary group of lung transplant experts that includes:
- Lung transplant surgeons.
- Transplant pulmonologists.
- Immunology specialists.
- Infectious diseases specialists.
- Transplant pathologists.
- Physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists.
- Critical care medicine specialists.
- Nurses and advanced practice providers (PAs and NPs).
- Transplant nurse coordinators.
- Social workers.
- Financial coordinators.
- Transplant pharmacists.
This group of experts work together to treat most lung transplant cases at UPMC. However, some cases are more complex, so our team may partner with experts in heart disease, kidney disease, and other specialties to ensure you are receiving the best care possible.
Q: If I am approved for a lung transplant, what should I expect before the procedure?
A: If you are approved for a lung transplant, you will be added to the lung transplant waiting list. This list is managed by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a national organization that works with the federal government to ensure organ donation is fair and equitable.
While waiting for donor organs to become available, you will work with nutritionists, physical therapists, and other experts to ensure you are in as healthy of a condition as possible for your lung transplant.
You will be asked to stay close to Pittsburgh while waiting for donor organs. We will notify you once donor organs become available. UPMC offers affordable resources for people who need to relocate with their families to receive a lung transplant.
Q: What is the recovery process like after a lung transplant?
A: Recovery may vary for each individual patient. A lung transplant is a major surgery. After the procedure, you will stay in the intensive care unit under the care of the UPMC Lung Transplant Team. You will receive oxygen from a ventilator until you are strong enough to breathe on your own.
You will also start immunosuppressant therapy to make sure your body does not reject the new lungs. From there, different people have different needs. You will receive pulmonary rehabilitation and physical therapy to help build your stamina, or other therapies.
Once your condition is stable, you will be discharged from the hospital to either your temporary residence in Pittsburgh or home. You will be enrolled in a comprehensive physical therapy and rehabilitation program at UPMC upon discharge from the hospital. You will be seen in follow-up on a regular basis at the UPMC lung transplant clinic.
World-Class Lung Transplant Care
The UPMC Lung Transplant Program was founded in 1982. Since then, our program has become one of the most experienced in the United States, as our surgeons have performed more than 2,200 lung and heart-lung transplants. We have achieved this volume while maintaining outcomes on par with national averages.
For more information about the lung transplant process, visit the UPMC Lung Transplant Program website or call us at 844-548-4591.
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.