The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Back in the late 1960s in South Africa, Dr. Christiaan Barnard made headlines across the globe when he successfully transplanted the first human heart into 53-year-old Lewis Washkansky. While over the years heart transplants have continued to be in the limelight, lung transplantation has taken a decided back seat. And yet key to the success of these types of surgeries has always been more about preventing rejection of the new organ than the actual surgical procedure itself. But what exactly happens during a lung transplant?
Why Would You Need a Lung Transplant?
There are quite a number of diseases or situations in which a person might need a lung transplant. The following are some of them:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Cystic fibrosis
- Pulmonary hypertension
The lungs are so severely diseased and damaged that a lung transplant is suggested to attempt to sustain life for the individual.
What is a Lung Transplant Exactly?
A lung transplant is exactly what is sounds like it might be. After finding a donor match, diseased lung tissue is removed and replaced with healthy lung tissue. And unlike a heart transplant where a total new organ is implanted, part or total, one or both of the lungs can be transplanted. For the most part, donor lung tissue comes from someone who died but a tissue match is also possible when a nonsmoking and healthy person can donate a lobe of one of their lungs.
What Happens During a Lung Transplant?
Once a suitable donor is found, which can occur quite suddenly, the transplant team convenes to start the surgical process. The patient in need of the lung transplant is placed under general anesthesia for the surgery. Depending on the extent of the lung disease and whether or not a portion, one or both lungs need to be replaced, the surgeon might make an incision on only one side of the chest or a more significant one across the entire chest width. As with a heart transplants, some people that might need a lung transplant will be placed on a heart-lung bypass machine during the surgery. Using the bypass during transplantation allows the blood to be circulating freely and properly oxygenated during the surgery. Thus, it helps kick start fully oxygenated blood into the circulation once the healthy lung is transplanted and in place.
After the surgery, the lung transplant recipient will remain in the hospital for a week to two under close observation. In the weeks to come, the patient’s days will revolve around regular follow-up visits and rehabilitation appointments to make sure that the lung transplant was a success.
What is the Prognosis Following a Lung Transplant?
The biggest factor when it comes to prognosis following a lung transplant, actually any organ transplant for that matter, is the effectiveness of anti-rejection drugs. Over the years as the medications improved, lung transplant recipients have been living longer. Unfortunately, like the situation with lung disease itself whereby for the most part there is no cure, the possible rejection of the new lung is never fully eliminated.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the current rate of survival 1 year after a lung transplant is 78 percent and after 5 years, it is 52 percent. In addition, surprisingly enough the survival rate for a double lung transplant is better than a single transplanted lung.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with COPD and been told your only option for treatment is a lung transplant, find out if you are a candidate for cellular therapy by contacting us at the Lung Institute or call (800) 729-3065 today.