For those interested in a lung transplant, WebMD answers the who, how, when, what and why in one easy article.

Who may be a candidate?

Lung transplants are what some consider the last line of treatment for many types of severe lung disease. Usually, people who may die without new lungs or who have exhausted all other options are advised to consider lung transplants. However, people over the age of 65 may have a lesser chance at receiving a lung transplant due to lower success rates.

How is one considered?

Patients referred to transplant centers by their primary physicians must undergo a thorough assessment by doctors, psychologists, social workers and other staff. Beyond medical need, the staff at a transplant center tries to gain a holistic view of the patient’s life including family and social support, financial situation and other medical conditions. Medical tests and scans of the lungs are performed to get an accurate evaluation. Patients that are approved are put on the lung transplant list, their placing determined by two factors: estimated lifespan without a transplant and with a transplant. Higher scores mean a higher place on the list.

How is surgery handled?

When donor lungs potentially become available, surgeons travel to the location of the donor to examine the lungs. If suitable, the recipient will already be in the operating room while the lungs are in transit to the transplant center. Depending on medical condition, the patient may receive a single or double lung transplant. This is accomplished through either an incision on one side of the chest (single), both sides (double), or across the entire span of the front chest (double). During surgery, some may need to go on cardiopulmonary bypass in which a blood is rerouted to a machine for oxygenation.

What happens afterward?

Post-transplant recovery can take several weeks, both in and out of the hospital. Time is spent doing physical therapy, learning how to manage medications that help the body tolerate the new lungs, and regular tests of lung function. Since not all patients live proximate to transplant centers, some programs offer nearby housing assistance until the recovery period is over.

Why do it?

After the initial intensive recovery period, people see an improvement in physical activity and many are able to work part-time. After three years, 55-70% of patients are still alive, with age at the time of transplant playing a large part in success. While post-transplant patients take powerful immunosuppressive drugs that can affect other organs and create susceptibility to infection, the years of relief from a transplant are immensely valuable to those who have been battling chronic lung conditions for much of their lives.

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