Lung transplant procedure
A lung transplant is viewed as a last possible resort in the treatment of respiratory failure. When patients in severe respiratory failure show no improvement with other forms of treatment such as oxygen therapy, mechanical ventilation and medication, the pulmonologist may recommend a lung transplant. Based on the damage to the lungs, the doctor may either recommend a single-lung transplant or a double-lung (bilateral) transplant.
Once the doctor has recommended a lung transplant, the next key step is to determine if you are eligible for a transplant. To determine this, several laboratory and imaging tests have to be carried out. Besides this, emotional and financial counselling is also offered. While you wait for a donor lung to become available, your doctor may suggest ways to ensure you stay healthy.
The time it takes for you to receive a donor lung depends on a number of factors:
- availability of a matching lung
- matching blood type
- distance between donor and recipient
- the severity of your condition
- the size of the donor lung
- your overall health
- Before the lung transplant is performed, the transplant team will run a few tests to ensure that you are in good health to undergo surgery and receive the donor lungs.
- In the operation theatre, general anaesthesia is administered. A tube will be inserted into the windpipe to help you breathe.
- You may also be put on a heart-lung machine, a device that pumps your blood and oxygenates it for you during surgery.
- The surgeon will make a large incision in the chest.
- The airway and blood vessels to the damaged lungs are cut and the lung is removed.
- This is replaced by the healthy donor lungs. The main airway and blood vessels are connected to the new lungs.
- The surgeon closes the incision and you are shifted to the transplant ICU for observation.
- A straightforward, uncomplicated single-lung transplant can take between 4 and 8 hours, and double-lung transplant can take up to 12 hours.
After a lung transplant, you will be observed in the ICU for a few days. Your vital signs will need to be closely monitored. You will most likely be on a mechanical ventilator to help you breathe. Once the transplant team is convinced that you are able to breathe well on your own with the new lungs, you will be shifted to the ward before being discharged.
Before you leave the hospital, you will be trained in cleaning the incision site and the precautions that you need to follow. The doctor will prescribe certain medications that have to be taken life-long or long-term.
Over the next three months, you will be required to meet your doctor and a member of the transplant team for regular follow-ups. They will monitor any signs of infection, rejection or other problems.
Immunosuppressants that the doctor prescribes are very important. They will help prevent your body from rejecting the new lung. However, as they suppress the immune system, they also leave the body susceptible to infections.
You will need to make long-term adjustments after a lung transplant.
- Taking immunosuppressants
- Managing medications, therapies and a lifelong care plan
- Living a healthy lifestyle
- Seeking emotional support through support groups
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