Lung transplant

A lung transplant is a surgical procedure to replace a diseased or failing lung with a healthy lung, usually from a deceased donor. A lung transplant is an option for those who have not responded to other forms of treatment like medication. Depending on the condition, a lung transplant may involve replacing one lung, both lungs or even both lungs along with the heart.

As a lung transplant is a major surgery, it will be offered to you by the doctor only if you really need it and nothing else has worked. It can greatly improve your health and quality of life. The doctor will explain everything about the process of transplantation, checking for eligibility and the risks of the surgery so that you and your family can make an informed decision.

The first step to preparing for a lung transplant is to choose the right transplantation centre for you. Here, you will be evaluated for eligibility. During this evaluation, your doctors and the transplant team may review your medical history, conduct a physical examination, order several tests and evaluate your mental and emotional health. The transplant team will also discuss with you the benefits and risks of a transplant. It is also wise to discuss your insurance plan with your doctor and family.

Once you have been deemed eligible for a lung transplant, you will be put on the organ donation waiting list. Until you receive your new lungs, your doctor will closely monitor your condition and may recommend lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and avoiding tobacco, and pulmonary rehabilitation to help improve your health.

When a donor organ becomes available, you must be prepared to act quickly. Once you arrive at the hospital, you will undergo some tests to ensure that you are fit for major surgery and to also ensure that the lung is a good match. Once all these steps are fulfilled, you are ready to be wheeled into the operation theatre for a lung transplantation.

Two major risks of a lung transplant include rejection and infection.

  • Rejection: Even with the best possible match, your immune system will try to attack and reject your new lungs. The risk of rejection is highest right after lung transplantation, although it reduces over time. To prevent organ rejection, your doctor will prescribe immunosuppressant medications, which you will have to take life-long.
  • Infection: As the anti-rejection (immunosuppressant) drugs suppress your immune system, it also makes the body more susceptible to infections. But this can be prevented by following simple protocols like:
    • washing your hands regularly
    • brushing your teeth regularly
    • protecting your skin from scratches and sores
    • avoiding crowds and people who are ill

A lung transplant can greatly improve your quality of life. The first year after the transplant is the most critical period. Once you cross the first year, your life expectancy increases to five to ten years, or even more at times, after the transplant.

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