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Lung Transplant

Lung Transplant

Lung transplant has become a real treatment option for end-stage lung diseases over the last three decades. Lung transplant surgery may replace one or both diseased lungs (double lung transplant) with healthy donor organs.

As with any other transplantation, the main concern is that the tissue and blood type of donor and recipient should match as closely as possible to reduce the odds for rejection. In case of live donors two or more people are needed in order to perform the organ donation: each person donates a segment of their lung to form an entire one for the receiver.

Depending on the type of procedure, lung transplant cost can go up to $550,000, but being a major, life-saving operation, the expenses are usually partially covered by insurers.

Lung Transplantation – Causes

Severe lung diseases in otherwise healthy patients under 65 can be takled with lung transplants, being surgery the last resort for lung failure. Among the diseases requiring lung transplant we find:

  • Pulmonary hypertension – high blood pressure in lung arteries
  • Interstitial lung disease – when lung tissues become swollen and scarred
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – also known as emphysema
  • Bronchiectasis – destruction of the large airways of the lung.
  • Congenital defects like damage to the arteries.
  • Cystic fibrosis – a hereditary, life-threatening disorder which causes thick mucus in the lung and the digestive tract.
  • Sarcoidosis – inflammation in the lymph nodes, lungs, eyes, liver, skin and tissues in general.

Lung Transplant Surgery Procedure

In order to be eligible for a donor lung, the medical specialist has to make sure that the patient has no other health-threatening condition, because the primary expectation is that with a successful operation the patient’s health should be restored. Patients may not be eligible for lung transplant if:

  • They are badly nourished or too sick to survive the procedure
  • They continue to smoke, abuse alcohol or certain drugs
  • Suffer from hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, or HIV
  • Have had cancer
  • Suffer from a lung disease that is likely to affect the new one
  • Suffer from severe diseases in other organs

Lung transplant centers will perform several tests to determine if the patient is a good candidate for the procedure. Among the tests we find:

  • Blood tests
  • Blood typing
  • Tissue typing
  • EKG
  • Echocardiogram
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Lung evaluation
  • Cancer screening (mammogram, colonoscopy, Pap smear)

Lung transplant surgery is a major, inpatient procedure, performed under general anesthesia. A heart-lung machine is used all along to replace the functions of the heart.

There are two types of lungs transplants:

  • Single lung transplants – in which the cut is made on the side of the chest where the donor lung will be transplanted. The operation takes from 4 to 8 hours.
  • Double lung transplant – in which the cut is made below the breast to reach both sides. A hart-lung bypass is used to provide oxygen and blood flow during the 6 to 12 hour long operation.

Major steps performed in lung transplant centers include:

  • Lung removal
  • Blood vessel and airway sewing
  • Donor lung sutured into place
  • Chest tubes inserted to drain air, fluid and blood out of the body. It takes several days till the new lungs fully expand.

Lung Transplant – Risks

Among the risks for lung transplantation the most commonly occurring ones are:

  • Breathing problems and reactions to medications – due to anesthesia
  • Bleeding and infection – due to surgery
  • Deep venous thrombosis – or blood clots
  • Diabetes, bone thinning, high cholesterol – from medications during post-op
  • Infections and damage to kidneys and liver – due to immunosuppression
  • Future risk of cancer

Lung Transplant Cost

For a single-lung transplant, the lung transplant cost can be around $400,000, for double lung transplant the cost may increase up to $550,000. For a heart-lung transplant, the average cost is about $900,000 which may be fully or partially covered by insurance.