Lung Transplant: Before Your Surgery

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What is a lung transplant?

A lung transplant is surgery to remove one or both of your diseased lungs and give you one or two new healthy ones. The new lung may come from a deceased person, or part of a lung may come from a living donor.

Your body may be able to work with only one healthy lung. Many people get both lungs transplanted. Some people only get one lung transplanted. This may be done if a person has one lung that is more diseased than the other.

During the surgery, the doctor makes a cut (incision) in your chest. The doctor will cut off the blood vessels and airways that are connected to your damaged lung. Your old lung will be replaced with the healthy donor lung. Then the doctor will reattach the blood vessels and airways to your new lung. If both lungs are being transplanted, they will be removed and then reattached one at a time. The doctor closes the incision with stitches that may dissolve on their own. Or the doctor may use staples that are removed about 1 to 3 weeks after surgery. The incision will leave a scar that will fade with time.

After surgery, the new lung should start to work right away. This can help you breathe more easily.

You will probably spend 1 to 3 weeks in the hospital. But it may take 2 to 3 months or longer for your energy to fully return.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • Bring a picture ID.
    You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You will be asleep during the surgery.
    The surgery will take about 3 to 6 hours.
    You will have a tube down your throat for a while. It will help you breathe.
    You will probably have one or two tubes coming out of your chest. These tubes drain fluid and air. They will be removed before you go home.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.