This is a surgery to remove severely diseased and damaged lungs. They are replaced with healthy lungs from a deceased donor. One or both lungs may be transplanted. In some cases, a heart transplant is done at the same time. In that case, the procedure is called a heart-lung transplant.
Reasons for Procedure
A lung transplant is done to treat irreversible, life-threatening lung disease, such as:
If you are planning to have a lung transplant, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Before you have a lung transplant, you will go through an intensive evaluation. This is done to determine if you are a good candidate for this surgery. During the evaluation, which often requires a hospital stay, you will have some or all of the following tests:
If you are a good candidate for a transplant, you will be put on a waiting list. There is a shortage of donors. You may need to wait a long time. You will need to carry a cell phone with you at all times. This will allow the transplant team to reach you if a donor lung becomes available. Donors are matched carefully for size, tissue type, and other factors. In some cases, a healthy family member can donate a lung if you only need a single transplant.
Leading up to your procedure:
General anesthesia will be used. It will block any pain and keep you asleep through the surgery. It is given through an IV in your hand or arm.
Description of the Procedure
For a single lung transplant, the doctor will make an incision on your side. It will be about six inches below your underarm. For a double lung transplant, the doctor will make an incision across the lower chest.
You will be put on a ventilator and a heart-lung machine. This machine will take over the functions of the heart and lungs during surgery. Next, the doctor will remove a small section of rib. This will allow access to your lung. The old lung will be cut away from the main blood vessel and bronchus (large airway). The new lung will then be inserted. The doctor will attach the blood vessels and bronchus to the new lung.
Immediately After Procedure
You will stay in the intensive care unit (ICU) for 2-3 days. The doctors and nurses will monitor you.
How Long Will It Take?
How Much Will It Hurt?
You will have pain during the recovery process. Your doctor will give you pain medicine.
Average Hospital Stay
This surgery is done in a hospital setting. The usual length of stay is 7-10 days. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if you shows signs of rejecting the new lungs or have other problems.
Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
For the rest of your life, do the following to maintain the health of your new lung or lungs:
It will take about six months to recover from a lung transplant.
Call Your Doctor
After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Lung Association
United Network for Organ Sharing
Canadian Lung Association
Lung transplant. Mayo Clinic.com website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/lung-transplant/MY00106 . Updated September 2010. Accessed November 12, 2010.
Organ transplant. Duke University Medical Center website. Available at: http://organtransplant.mc.duke.edu/transplant.html . Accessed October 14, 2005.
What is a lung transplant? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/ . Updated December 2008. Accessed September 4, 2009.
Last reviewed November 2012 by Marcin Chwistek, MD