Last updated: June 2019
My colleague, John Bottrell, recently wrote a terrific article about lung transplants here at COPD.net.1
It’s an excellent article and really lays out the whole story about the history of lung transplants and COPD, what are transplant qualifications and a general understanding of what to expect.
Ironically, on the same day that John’s article was published, I had just returned from Temple University Hospital (TUH) in Philadelphia. Where I’d gone to explore their lung transplant program.
TUH performed 131 lung transplants in the calendar year 2017. The number of Temple’s lung transplant has increased remarkably, growing from 5 transplants in 2011, to 131 in 2017. Apparently, it is the number 1 program in the nation in terms of procedures performed.
Lung transplants as an option for COPD
And while the numbers are impressive, they say nothing about the complexities of the procedure itself and exploring it as an option to battle COPD.
For me, the thought of a transplant is invigorating and intimidating at the same time. I remember speaking to a pulmonologist about lung transplants around the time I was diagnosed with COPD (2011).
It was not very encouraging.
The life expectancy back then, post-transplant, was about 5 years.
As with heart transplants, when a body part or organ that is not yours is introduced to your body, it causes a major disruption to your bodily function and your health.
Your body does not recognize those organs as belonging to you and will do everything in its power to reject them from your body.
But, apparently, there’s been progress made in the development of drugs that discourage rejection (immunosuppressant medications) and those kinds of advances have helped Temple and other transplants centers in performing more surgeries of this nature.
Dr. Gerard Criner,2 Chair and Professor, Thoracic Medicine and Surgery, Director, Temple Lung Center told me that they have been seeing more patients “living beyond 10 years and some longer than that.”
The before and after of a transplant
I spoke to a number of doctors, nurses, social workers, and therapists while I was at Temple. Each discipline has a distinct role in the pre- and post-surgery procedures. There is a week-long series of tests including, (for men), a colonoscopy, a prostate exam, x-rays, CAT scans as well as verbal interviews to get a better sense of the patients and their overall general health.
The procedure can take up to 10 hours or more and the recovery period for the transplant is usually a minimum of 3 weeks at the hospital (for monitoring purposes) as well as time in bed at home for the healing.
* * * * * * * * * *
As I recently read, “While a lung transplant is a major operation that can involve many complications, it can greatly improve your health and quality of life.”2
Quality of life with COPD
So while the process leading up to being selected for the transplant waiting list is long, slow, and often discouraging - the possibility of taking long walks on the beach again, or in those mountain trails – with your loved ones – with little fear of winding up SOB within a few yards comes to mind. Here is the chance to breathe again – without oxygen, without steroids.
Quality of life.
And yet, the thought of the surgery itself – a massive intrusion into one’s body – is frightening, to say the least.
The idea of a lung transplant is both encouraging and frightening
As I said before, the application process and procedure is extensive and time-consuming and there are no guarantees of being accepted.
There are meetings with medical staff, tests, screenings. There are lectures about the importance of family support. There are lectures about bodily rejections.
And even if you are accepted, there is a waiting time for a good match.
The MAYO Clinic has a wonderful article that provides an extensive explanation of what to expect with a lung transplant and all the pre and post-surgery procedures.3
The prospect is both encouraging and frightening at the same time.
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