Lung transplants are complex procedures. Understanding more about what is essential to help you feel prepared. Here, we explore the common questions you may have about a lung transplant.
Who needs a lung transplant?
Since lung transplantation is a very complex surgery involving the use of scarce resources, only people who have a significantly impaired quality of life are considered suitable candidates. This may include someone with a severe lung condition whose life is at risk. These can include lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis, emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis and interstitial lung disease. Additionally, certain forms of congenital heart disease and pulmonary arterial hypertension may require a lung transplant.
What are the eligibility criteria?
If you and your doctor think a lung transplant is suitable treatment, you will need to be referred to a highly skilled team of health professionals. Following the referral, a lung transplant team will perform a lung transplant assessment, to determine if you meet the eligibility criteria.
There are several factors that will need to be considered before you may be determined as a successful candidate. These include:
- Your age and general conditioning
- The severity of your condition
- Untreatable issues with major organs other than your lungs
- Lifestyle factors such as malnutrition, alcohol consumption and tobacco use, or vaping will be considered
- Significant cerebrovascular disease
- Presence of chronic infections
- Other health factors – a transplant may not be an option if you have a recent malignancy, a chronic resistant infection, organ dysfunction or other surgical factors.
Furthermore you will meet with a range of different health professionals to complete a range of assessments and discuss the commitment involved. Moving forward requires a dedication to a healthy and active lifestyle post-transplant. Afterwards, you will have to wait for the result.
Who will conduct the lung transplant assessment?
The healthcare professionals involved in the assessment may include:
- Respiratory physician
- Transplant surgeon
- Social worker
- Cardiothoracic surgeon
- Transplant co-ordinator
- Occupational therapist
- Pulmonary rehabilitation specialist
- Surgical nurses.
In addition, there may be other appointments and experts involved specific to your unique situation.
What if I am not eligible for a lung transplant?
A lung transplant may not be the answer for everyone who is assessed. It is important to understand that going through the assessment process does not guarantee you will go on to the transplant registry. Sometimes the lung transplant assessment may reveal you are not suitable for a range of reasons.
If this occurs, your team of health professionals will work with you to evaluate and come up with a new solution. Subsequently, they will plan to assist you with your lung health journey.
Why is support so important?
A lung transplant brings about many challenges, for both you and your support network. It can be very difficult to cope with both the physical and emotional challenges presented during each process. Be it waiting to be accepted on to the transplant list, waiting for a transplant, and during the recovery process. Additionally, support is also essential when a lung transplant is deemed not the most suitable medical treatment option.
Connecting with others who understand what you’re going through can make all the difference. Lung Foundation Australia is proud to support the Lungitude Foundation to facilitate an online support network that connects people with shared experiences in lung transplantation. The Lungitude Online Peer Support Network enables the sharing of ideas and tips for managing the practical and emotional challenges of a lung disease. It’s important to remember you are not alone.
I’m on the registry, now what?
After you have been deemed a successful candidate, you will be placed on the lung transplant waitlist (registry). It is essential to maintain the best health while you are waiting for your procedure. This will help maximise your current condition and furthermore, allow your transplant to have the greatest chance of success.
It can sometimes take up to two years waiting unless you receive that call. Sometimes it can be longer for a double transplant. Waiting for the procedure can be an extremely stressful time. Therefore, it is important to communicate with your health professionals how you and your family are coping, as well as talking with your loved ones.
Social workers or psychologists can provide expert education and support throughout the process. Likewise, this support is available for both the family, carer and the individual receiving the lung transplant.
Can I get a lung transplant for Pulmonary Fibrosis (PF)?
A lung transplant for pulmonary fibrosis can help improve survival chances and quality of life. Whether this is the best option to treat PF is determined by your team of medical professionals you are working with.
However, as PF causes scarring of the lungs, your physician may suggest this treatment option. As a result, it is important to remember this is a major operation with significant risks.
What are the major risks or complications of a lung transplant?
Key risks include:
- Though rare, there is a chance of the lung transplant being unsuccessful
- With any major operation, surgical risks are present
- Transplant rejection can occur
- Further surgery may be needed for complications
- Strong medications are required to suppress the immune system.
What are the advantages of a lung transplant?
For patients with lung failure who are fit enough for the operation, the major benefits include:
- Can lead to a longer and better quality of life
- Improved energy levels
- Increased ability to breathe, and thus return to normal daily activities.
The Lungitude Foundation is continuously striving for excellence for lung transplant patients and their supporters in Australia. Reach out to find out more about the peer support groups, run in conjunction with Lung Foundation Australia.