A lung transplant replaced diseased and damaged lung with healthy lung from a donor. One or both lungs may be replaced.
A transplant is done if the lung injury or disease cannot be cured. It may be considered at the end stage of life-threatening diseases such as:
Normal vs. Emphysemic Lung
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Problems from the procedure are rare, but all have some risk. Your doctor will talk to you about possible problems, like:
Lifelong medicine will be needed after a transplant. The medicine will lower the immune system. It will stop the body from attacking the new organ. This can lead to complications such as:
A long approval process will be done before the surgery. It will make sure you are ready and able to have a transplant. Tests will be reviewed to make sure the heart and lungs are strong enough for surgery.
After an approval comes a waiting list. There is a shortage of donors. Donors are matched carefully for size, tissue type, and other factors. A healthy family member can donate part of a lung. There may be a long wait.
You will need to be easily reached at all times. There may not be much notice before surgery. It is important to have a plan in place. A hospital stay will be needed during recovery.
General anesthesia will be used. It will keep you asleep during the surgery. It will also block pain.
An incision will be made on the chest. For a single lung transplant, it will be on your side below your underarm. For a double lung transplant, it will be across the lower chest.
A heart-lung machine will be placed. It will take over the work of your lungs and heart during surgery. It will keep oxygen flowing to your body during surgery. The doctor will remove a small area of ribs. This will allow access to your lung. The old lung will be cut away from the blood vessels and airways. The new lung will then be placed. The doctor will attach the blood vessels and airways to the new lung. The heart-lung machine will be removed. The doctor will make sure the lung is working well before the chest wall is closed.
Recovery will start in the intensive care unit (ICU). Staff will make sure the lung is working well. The stay may last for 2 to 3 days.
There will be pain in chest for the first few weeks. Medicine will help to ease pain.
The usual length of stay is 7 to 10 days. The stay may be longer if problems arise.
It will take about 6 months to recover from a lung transplant. Help may be needed at home during recovery. Ongoing treatment and monitoring may include:
It is important for you to monitor your recovery. Alert your care team to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
Call for emergency medical services right away if any of the following occurs:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Lung Association
United Network for Organ Sharing
The Lung Association
Explore lung transplant. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
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Accessed August 29, 2018.
Lung Transplantation. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at:
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Updated November 23, 2018. Accessed May 10, 2019.
Lung transplant - procedure and perioperative management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T922344/Lung-transplant-procedure-and-perioperative-management. Lat reviewed April 19, 2019. Accessed May 10, 2019.
Lung transplant Surgery. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/lung-transplant-surgery. Published May 12, 2017. Accessed August 29, 2018.
Last reviewed September 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 5/10/2019