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.
What to Expect
You'll take medicines to prevent your immune system from rejecting the new lung or lungs. This helps make it more likely that your body will accept the new lungs.
After you leave the hospital, you'll have checkups and blood tests to see how well your lungs are working. You'll have these checkups less often over time. You'll also need to have tests to check for certain kinds of cancer.
It's important to follow a healthy lifestyle to help keep your lungs healthy. This will include eating healthy foods, avoiding smoking, and staying active. You may have to do things to reduce your risk of infection. For instance, you may need to limit visitors while you recover. And you may need to avoid large crowds where you could be exposed to a virus like the flu.
After a transplant, many people say they feel better than they have in years. Over time, you may find that you can do more activities than you did before.
Having good support is important throughout the process of getting a transplant. Waiting for your transplant can be hard emotionally. After your surgery, you may have concerns about your health and the new organs you received. You'll also have a lot to manage, like taking new medicines and going to follow-up visits.
Getting support from others, such as friends and family, can help during this time. A counselor can help you learn to cope with stress and other emotions before and after your procedure.
Many people who have an organ transplant feel anxious or depressed. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be depressed. Depression can be treated with medicines and counseling.
Why It Is Done
A lung transplant may be done when:
- Your lung or lungs are diseased or damaged (usually from a chronic condition) and aren't able to work as they should.
- Other treatments haven't worked to improve your lung function.
Conditions that may result in a lung transplant include:
- Interstitial (say "in-ter-STIH-shul") lung disease, such as pulmonary fibrosis.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema.
- Cystic fibrosis.
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.
- Pulmonary hypertension.
How Well It Works
A lung transplant can increase how long a person with severe lung damage is expected to live. It can help you feel better and have more energy. And it may help you be more able to do things like working, going to school, or other activities.
How successful a lung transplant is may depend on:
- Your overall health. After the transplant, it's important to keep a healthy lifestyle, such as eating healthy foods and being active. Don't smoke. And try to avoid being around others who smoke. Try to limit alcohol.
- Whether you take your medicines as prescribed.
- Finding and treating organ rejection early. This makes it more likely that your lungs will stay healthy. That's why it's important to go to follow-up appointments and get tests.
- The disease that caused your lungs to fail.
Like any surgery, a lung transplant has some risks. They include:
- Organ rejection. Your body's immune system tries to attack the transplanted organ by rejecting it. It happens because the transplanted organ doesn't match your own tissue exactly.
- Problems such as bleeding during and after the surgery.
- Infection. The medicines you'll need to take to help your body accept the new lungs can also make it harder for your body to fight infection.
- Certain cancers, such as skin cancer. This risk increases because anti-rejection medicines can also prevent the body from attacking cancer cells.