A lung transplant is often necessary in individuals who have been diagnosed with radically decreased lung function caused by a variety of accidents or disease processes. A lung transplant may serve to repair a portion of the damaged lung, or to replace an entire lung that no longer functions properly. Today, lung transplants are mainly performed using donor lungs from recently deceased individuals, although some living lung donor transplants have been performed.
A lung transplant may aid anyone who has been diagnosed with a damaged, diseased or failing lung. Lungs are often damaged in traumatic automobile accidents, or may be damaged or diseased by conditions such as lung cancer or emphysema. Individuals with decreased lung capacity due to a variety of conditions may benefit from a partial or complete lung transplant.
Unfortunately, it can take up to several years in order to find a suitable donor match for a lung transplant, but once that donor is found, the process moves extremely quickly. In many cases, the recipient for the donor lung must be prepared and in surgery within 24 hours, sometimes less, depending on case scenarios.
In order for a lung transplant to occur with any reasonable expectation of success, a matching process must be employed. For example, before a donor recipient match can occur, blood type, the size of the organ, and the location of both donor and recipient need to be assessed. A lung transplant will also depend on the type and severity of the lung disease of the recipient, as well as their overall health and wellness, and the chances of success of the transplant procedure.
During the procedure, the patient is asleep under general anesthesia. The doctor will place a breathing tube down the throat to facilitate the breathing process throughout the operation. A tube will also be placed through the nose and into the stomach to reduce the chance of aspiration, and a catheter to collect urine will be placed prior to the operation.
The surgeon will create an opening in the chest in order to facilitate removal of the damaged or diseased lung. Blood vessels and airway tubes known as bronchia serving the damaged lung will be temporarily clamped or tied off. The damaged area or portion of the lung is then removed. The surgeon will replace the removed portion or the entire lung with the donor lung, placed carefully into the cavity. Blood vessels and major airway tubes are matched and reattached with dissolvable sutures.
Throughout the process, an individual may be placed on a heart-lung machine, which will replace the function of the heart and lungs during the operation. Following the procedure, the individual is taken off the heart-lung machine and total body function is restored. A single lung transplant takes up to 8 hours to complete, while individuals undergoing a double lung transplant may expect to be in the operating room for up to 12 hours.
A patient recovering from a lung transplant should expect a several day stay in the hospital's intensive care unit, after which he or she will be placed in a hospital room. Some individuals may require help from a mechanical ventilator to help with breathing while the chest drains of fluids that accumulate following the procedure. Individuals undergoing a lung transplant can expect to stay in the hospital for 1 to 3 weeks, followed by several month period of recuperation under careful monitoring with their doctor.
Surgeons who have completed general surgery requirements and training are eligible for organ transplant training and education. Accredited and certified surgeons should belong to the American Society of Transplant Surgeons in the U.S. or other similar organizations or boards in the surgeon’s country of origin. Always verify the education, training and experience of any surgeon who may perform surgery and make sure they are licensed to practice in the facility of your choice.
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