Lung Transplant: What to Expect

Evaluation

A complete health evaluation is necessary to determine whether lung transplant surgery is appropriate for you. Patients typically undergo three or four days of testing on an outpatient basis for evaluation. Depending on the severity of your illness, this evaluation could take place on an inpatient basis.

Waiting List

If the transplant physician finds that transplantation is an appropriate option, and if you want to receive a lung transplant, you’ll be placed on the transplant waiting list. Your name, blood type, and body size, along with an assigned lung allocation score (LAS) will be placed in the national United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) computer at the Southwest Transplant Alliance. The LAS helps determine the order in which lung offers are made to lung candidates who are 12 years or older.

Your score depends on the seriousness of your medical condition before transplant and the likelihood of a successful transplant.

While on the waiting list for a transplant, you will need to carry a cellphone or beeper to be contacted quickly when a donor becomes available. You must live within two hours of the hospital so you can arrive soon after a donor becomes available. You should also notify the transplant office about any serious infections you may get, such as pneumonia, abscesses, or major infections.

The amount of time you wait for surgery varies, depending on donor availability, your blood type, body size, and how sick you are. The waiting time for a transplant is often several months due to the shortage of donor organs.

Procedure

We'll call you as soon as an appropriate donor organ is ready. Do not eat or drink anything after getting called. You must arrive at the hospital within two hours. You’ll need to be admitted, and tests will be drawn immediately.

During surgery, your family will be directed to a waiting room, and an operating room nurse will update them as the procedure progresses. The surgeon will meet with your family after the surgery is completed. 

Recovery

You'll stay in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) once surgery is finished. While in the ICU, all visitors and health care personnel will wear gowns, gloves, and masks when in your room.

Once you’re breathing safely on your own, you’ll generally be transferred out of the ICU. You will spend another few days in the hospital. During this time, you will be instructed about medications, future outpatient visits, and general health care issues.

The first two to three months after the transplant are the most critical because this is the most common period for infection and rejection to occur. At first, you will need to come to the transplant office twice a week. This makes it necessary for you to remain in the Dallas area for at least six to 12 weeks.

A lung transplant requires a long-term commitment because you will need to take medications for the rest of your life; exercise regularly; eat a healthy diet; abstain from smoking, street drugs, and alcohol; and have frequent medical checkups.