Treating Lung Disease With Lung Transplant Surgery

At University of Utah Health, our experienced lung transplant team provides exceptional care for patients in the Mountain West—from evaluation through transplant surgery and recovery. Our program is the only one in the region that serves adult patients with advanced lung disease.

Our team will be by your side to help you navigate the complex process of:

  • being listed for a transplant,
  • receiving a donor lung, and
  • recovering from surgery.

Contact Us

Phone: 801-585-3697
Toll-free: 800-456-8341
Fax: 801-213-3969

Email: lungtransplant@hsc.utah.edu

What Is a Lung Transplant?

A lung transplant is an operation in which the surgeon replaces a diseased, failing lung with a healthy lung from a deceased donor. Some people receive one lung, and others need two. In some situations, patients receive two lungs and a new heart.

People who are on a lung transplant waiting list have advanced lung disease that is not responding to therapy. Poor health prevents them from enjoying everyday activities. 

couple walking together

Types of Lung Disease and Transplant Surgery

Our surgeons perform lung transplant surgery for patients with the following conditions:

  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or emphysema, including emphysema resulting from Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD);
  • interstitial lung diseases (ILD), such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis or IPF, and other forms of ILD caused by conditions like scleroderma, rheumatoid disease, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE);
  • cystic fibrosis (CF) and other forms of bronchiectasis not related to CF;
  • occupational or work-related lung diseases like silicosis, pneumoconiosis, or asbestosis;
  • pulmonary hypertension, including idiopathic pulmonary hypertension (previously called primary pulmonary hypertension) and secondary pulmonary hypertension;
  • sarcoidosis.

Expert Care From Our Team

At U of U Health, our caring team of lung transplant providers knows what it’s like for patients dealing with advanced lung disease. We are here to provide empathy, support and hope. Our team includes:

  • pulmonary medicine doctors,
  • transplant surgeons,
  • transplant coordinators and other nurses,
  • pharmacists,
  • social workers,
  • registered dietitians,
  • financial specialists, and
  • pulmonary rehabilitation therapists.

Find a Lung Transplant Doctor

Lung Transplant Cost

Our financial coordinator will contact your insurance company to make sure your policy will cover a lung transplant. The insurance company will review your records to confirm that you meet all their criteria for a lung transplant.

It is not uncommon for the financial coordinator to recommend patients and families consider fundraising to help with transplant related costs. Our financial coordinators are experts at what kind of fundraising is best to do related to lung transplant.

To contact the transplant financial coordinators, please email txfinancial@hsc.utah.edu.

Lung Evaluation & Lung Transplant Waiting List

Lung Transplant Evaluation

Before we place you on a waiting list, our team will do an evaluation. Learn more about lung transplant evaluation.

Lung Transplant Waiting List

When all of your test results are available and other appointments have taken place, members of our transplant team will have a selection meeting to review your results.

People are placed on the lung transplant waiting list if:

  • the team agrees that a transplant is medically safe and appropriate for the patient’s specific case and
  • the patient’s insurance company and the hospital’s financial department have provided authorization.

After the team reaches a decision, you will be contacted to meet with one of the doctors and a transplant coordinator to discuss the next steps.

Lung Transplant Surgery

Lung transplant surgery generally takes eight to 10 hours. It may take longer depending on whether you have had previous chest surgery and if you are receiving two lungs instead of one.

You’ll be asleep under general anesthesia during the surgery. The transplant surgeon will:

  • remove your diseased lung.
  • attach a donor lung(s).
  • close your chest cavity.

After surgery, you’ll recover in the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU). Doctors and nurses will check on you frequently and run tests to monitor your progress. You will:

  • be on a ventilator for a day or longer to help you breathe.
  • have tubes in your chest that will drain fluids from around your lungs and heart.
  • take medication for pain relief.
  • begin taking immunosuppressant drugs to prevent your body from rejecting your new lung(s).

You will typically be transferred to a step-down unit within a week, where the care team will continue to monitor you closely. Our physical therapists and occupational therapists will work with you to make sure you maintain your strength and mobility during this time.

Most patients leave the hospital within two to three weeks of the surgery. You may go to a rehabilitation facility or the home setting, depending on your needs.

Lung Transplant Complications

The care team will watch you closely for complications and risks that may occur after a lung transplant, such as:

  • rejection of the donor lung(s),
  • primary graft failure (when the new lung does not function well following surgery),
  • medication side effects, and
  • infection.

Lung Transplant Survival Rates

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the one-year survival rate for single-lung transplants is almost 80 percent. The five-year survival rate is more than 50 percent. More information about our outcomes can be found at the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.

Lung Transplant Recovery

You will need to stay in the Salt Lake City area for at least three months after your surgery so that the transplant team can monitor you closely and adjust your medication doses as needed. You will return to U of U Health for frequent clinic visits, biopsies, blood draws, and imaging tests.

After three months, your follow-up visits will become less frequent. If you return to your hometown pulmonologist or primary care physician at that time, we will continue to follow your lab test results and see you as needed in our clinic.

Most people who have a lung transplant will experience a much-improved quality of life. Your doctor and transplant coordinator will talk to you about when it is safe to resume your normal activities, such as work, exercise and participating in hobbies.

Making an Appointment

To make an appointment with one of our transplant pulmonologists, call 801-585-3697 or 800-456-8341 or request an appointment online. Depending on your insurance plan, you may need a referral from your doctor. Before scheduling your appointment, our team will request medical records from your pulmonologist or your primary care physician to help plan your .

In addition, we offer “Before a Transplant: What to Expect,” an in-depth guide that can help you understand the transplant evaluation process. To receive a printed copy of the guide in the mail, please contact us

Curtis Watkins, lung transplant patient

Hear From Our Patients

A heavy smoker for 40 years, Curtis finally managed to quit in 2001 at age 58 thanks to his wife’s, Linda's, encouragement, his own determination, and a generous supply of nicotine gum and patches. “But it caught up with me,” said Curtis, who had developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that led to end-stage lung disease.

Curtis found help at University of Utah Health's Lung Transplant Program.

Read Curtis's Story

Health Insurance & Center of Excellence

Health insurance coverage, contracts, and payment may be subject to changes beyond the control of University of Utah Health. The University of Utah Transplant Department will contact your insurance and verify that your insurance is contracted with our facility and providers.

If your insurance is not contracted, we will attempt a single-case-agreement for transplant services to be performed at the University of Utah. Ultimately the patient is responsible for payment related to all services.

Please reach out to our transplant financial coordinators with any questions related to transplant finances: txfinancial@hsc.utah.edu.