Lung transplantation involves removal of one or both diseased lungs from a patient and the replacement of the lungs with healthy organs from a donor. Lung transplantation may refer to single, double, or even heart-lung transplantation .
The purpose of lung transplantation is to replace a lung that no longer functions with a healthy lung. To perform a lung transplantation, there should be potential for rehabilitated breathing function. Other medical treatments should be attempted before transplantion is considered. Many candidates for this procedure have end-stage fibrotic lung disease, are dependent on oxygen therapy , and are likely to die of their disease in 12 to 18 months.
In order to qualify for lung transplantation, a patient must suffer from severe lung disease such as:
Patients with emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) should be under 60 years of age, have a life expectancy without transplantation of two years or less, progressive deterioration, and emotional stability in order to be considered for lung transplantation. Young patients with end-stage silicosis may be candidates for lung or heart-lung transplantation. Patients with stage III or stage IV sarcoidosis with cor pulmonale (right-sided heart failure) should be considered as early as possible for lung transplantation.
Once a patient has been selected as a possible organ recipient, the process of waiting for a donor organ match begins. The donor organ must meet specific requirements for tissue match in order to reduce the chance of organ rejection. It is estimated that it takes an average of one to two years to receive a suitable donor lung, and the wait is made less predictable by the necessity for tissue match. Patients on a recipient list must be available and ready to come to the hospital immediately when a donor match is found, since the life of the lungs outside the body is brief.
Single lung transplantation is performed via a standard thoracotomy (incision in the chest wall) with the patient under general anesthesia. Cardiopulmonary bypass (diversion of blood flow from the heart) is not always necessary for a single lung transplant. If bypass is necessary, it involves re-routing of the blood through tubes to a heart-lung bypass machine. Double lung transplantation involves implanting the lungs as two separate lungs, and cardiopulmonary bypass is usually required. The patient's lung or lungs are removed and the donor lungs are stitched into place. Drainage tubes are inserted into the chest area to help drain fluid, blood, and air out of the chest.
Heart-lung transplants always require the use of cardiopulmonary bypass. An incision is made through the middle of the sternum. The heart, lung, and supporting structures are transplanted into the recipient at the same time.
Patients who have diseases or conditions that may make them more susceptible to organ rejection are not selected for lung transplant. This includes patients who are acutely ill and unstable; have uncontrolled or untreatable pulmonary infection; significant dysfunction of other organs, particularly the liver, kidney, or central nervous system; and those with significant coronary disease or left ventricular dysfunction. Patients who actively smoke cigarettes or are dependent on drugs or alcohol may not be selected. There are a variety of protocols that are used to determine if a patient will be placed on a transplant recipient list, and criteria may vary depending on location.
The following diagnostic tests are usually performed to evaluate a patient for lung transplantation:
In addition to tests and criteria for selection as a candidate for transplantation, patients are prepared by discussing at length the procedure, risks, and expected prognosis with the doctor. Patients should continue to follow all therapies and medications for treatment of the underlying disease, unless otherwise instructed by their physician. Since lung transplantation takes place under general anesthesia, patients are advised not to take food or drink from midnight before the surgery.
Transplantation requires a long hospital stay, and recovery can last up to six months. Careful monitoring will take place in a recovery room immediately following the surgery and in the patient's hospital room. Patients must take immunosuppressive, or anti-rejection, drugs to reduce the risk of rejection of the transplanted organ. The body considers the new organ an invader and will fight its presence. The anti-rejection drugs lower the body's immune function in order to improve acceptance of the new organs. This also makes the patient more susceptible to infection.
Frequent check-ups, including x ray and blood tests, will be necessary following surgery, probably for a period of several years.
Lung transplantation is a complicated and risky procedure, partly because of the organs and systems involved, and also because of the risk of rejection by the recipient's body. Acute rejection most often occurs within the first four months following surgery, but may occur years later. Infection is a substantial risk for organ recipients. An early complication of the surgery can be poor healing of the bronchial and tracheal openings created during the surgery. A late complication and risk is chronic rejection. This can result in inflammation of the bronchial tubes or in late infection from the prolonged use of immunosuppressive drugs to fight rejection.
Demonstration of normal results for lung transplantation patients include adequate lung function and improved quality of life, as well as lack of infection and rejection.
According to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR), a total of 1,076 lung transplants and 31 heart-lungs transplants were performed in the United States in 2002. Of these transplants, 1,041 lungs were obtained from deceased donors and 35 from living donors. The survival rate at one year after transplant was 77% for lung transplants and 64% for heart-lung transplants.
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American Society of Transplantation (AST). 17000 Commerce Parkway, Suite C, Mount Laurel, NJ 08054. (856) 439-9986. http://www.a-s-t.org .
Children's Organ Transplant Association, Inc. 2501 COTA Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403. (800) 366-2682. http://www.cota.org .
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). P.O. Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 20824-0105. (301) 592-8573. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/index.htm .
Second Wind Lung Transplant Association, Inc. 9030 West Lakeview Court, Crystal River, FL 34428. (888) 222-2690. http://www.arthouse.com/secondwind .
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Teresa Norris, RN
Monique Laberge, PhD
Lung transplantations are performed in a specialized organ transplantation hospital. Every transplant hospital in the United States is a member of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) and must meet specific requirements.
Lung transplantations involve specialized transplant teams usually consisting of an anesthesiologist, an infectious disease specialist, a thoracic surgeon, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist, a cardiologist, and a transplant dietician who all perform with a high level of coordination.