Can You Get a Lung Transplant?

Lung transplant surgery is performed to remove a diseased lung and replace it with a healthy lung from an organ donor. This transplant surgery can be done for one or both lungs. People of all ages can have lung transplants, from adults to newborns.

When Would You Need a Lung Transplant?

You might need a lung transplant if you:

  • have had a lung condition that can’t be improved with any other treatment or
  • have a life expectancy of 12 to 24 months without transplant.

Lung Transplant: Things to Know

1. Lung Transplants Are an Option for People With Severe Lung Conditions. 

These conditions can include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These are lung diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. They can interfere with normal breathing.
  • Severe cystic fibrosis (CF). This disease causes problems in the glands that make sweat and mucus. It is ongoing and gets worse over time.
  • Pulmonary hypertension. This condition is high blood pressure in the arteries that bring blood to the lungs.
  • Pulmonary fibrosis. This is scarring of the lungs.
  • Heart disease. Heart disease or heart defects that affect the lungs may cause a patient to need a heart-lung transplant.
  • Inherited (congenital) conditions. An example of these are alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency and cystic fibrosis.
  • Other diseases. Other conditions can include sarcoidosis, histiocytosis, and lymphangioleiomyomatosis.

2. To Get a Lung Transplant, You Must Go Through an Evaluation Process.

This evaluation process includes a physical, meeting with the lung transplant team, and testing. This process helps the transplant care team decide if a lung transplant is right for you and make sure you are physically able to have one.

3. Being in the Best Shape Possible Will Help You Prepare.

While it may be challenging to keep your body in good shape, the stronger you are, the faster you can recover. While recovery time is different for every patient, keeping your body as healthy as possible will help you prepare for a lung transplant.

4. You Will Need a Caregiver and Support System. 

A lung transplant is not something you go through by yourself. You will need a support network of family and friends. For your evaluation and after the transplant itself, you will need to visit your treatment center for many appointments. 

5. You Might Have to Travel to a Transplant Center and Stay Nearby for a While. 

There are centers that perform lung transplants around the country, but you may have to travel to reach one. You should consider how you are going to travel to the center and where to stay.

While you wait for your lung transplant, you will also need to stay close by and be available. You will not know when you will get the call to have your transplant. Transplant surgeons only have four to six hours to complete the operation after they receive donor lungs.

After your transplant, your care team will need to see you frequently during the first few weeks and months. It is very important for providers to keep a close eye on how your new lungs are functioning. You will want to be no further away than an hour from your care center.

During this time, your care team may also help you find a care team closer to your home. This will help you take long-term care of your lungs. 

Find a list of transplant centers.

6. An Organization Called UNOS Oversees Organ Matching.

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is a non-profit organization that oversees transplant programs in the U.S. UNOS makes sure that organs are distributed in a fair and ethical way. They run the U.S. Organ and Procurement Transplantation Network (OPTN).

This means that factors like income or celebrity status do not affect how organs are distributed.

7. Organs Are Matched to Patients Through These Ways 

Medical factors and location can affect how organs are matched to patients. These include:

  • your blood type,
  • how severe your illness is,
  • your body size, and
  • the number of donors available.

For a lung transplant specifically, OPTN must also consider the:

  • predicted survival benefit,
  • how urgently the patient needs the transplant,
  • how far away the patient and organs are from the hospital, and
  • age/pediatric status.

8. Taking Care of Your Emotional Health Will Be Important.

When you, a friend, or family member are suffering from a serious illness, you may experience depression or anxiety. It is important to get treatment for this throughout the transplant process.

Be patient with yourself, your friend or family member. The transplant process will take time, and it will take time for you to return to the things you enjoy doing. Take time to do what you enjoy doing (as long as it’s safe!). 

You can also find a support group or an online community to help you through the process.

9. Can You Have a Lung Transplant More Than Once?

It is possible to have lung retransplantation, but it is not that common. About four percent of lung transplants are retransplant procedures.*

10. Wait Times Are Different for Different Transplant Centers

Depending on where you choose to have your transplant done, the wait time may be different. If you are accepted as a lung transplant candidate, your name will be added to the UNOS waiting list at the transplant center of your choice.

Most patients at University of Utah Health spend between two and six months on the lung transplant list.

*Statistic from the American Lung Association

More About Lung Transplant at U of U Health

Receiving a lung transplant can be a life-saving decision. It’s important to keep your body in as good of shape as possible and keep a positive attitude!

At University of Utah Health, we have put together these resources to help you in your journey.