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Article Type: Blog

Lung Transplant 101

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Each patient who receives new lungs from AdventHealth’s Transplant Institute has their own unique story, but they all share the same motivation: to keep living.

Thanks to investments in technology, expertise and organ acquisition, we have helped more people turn the tragedy of a deadly lung disease into the medical miracle that is a successful lung transplant.

If you or a loved one are facing advanced lung disease, you probably have questions. You’ll want to know what getting a lung transplant means for you, including preparing for surgery through the recovery process. You’d also want to know what your life might be like in the months and years afterward.

Our patients who received new lungs from the AdventHealth Transplant Institute have a one-year survival rate of 93.54%, which is better than the nationwide survival rate of 89.38%.

And when you get a lung transplant, you don’t just get a new set of lungs, you get a new doctor for life, says Cynthia Gries, MD, MSc, medical director of the lung transplant program.

These compassionate values are the foundation for the transplant program’s success, including a median wait time of 6.1 days, less than a quarter of the national average.

Though there are risks to transplant surgery, it can transform lives. Within one day, a person who needed oxygen or a breathing machine to survive can breathe on their own.

“They’re off oxygen, cruising around and playing golf or the other things they love to do,” Dr. Gries says. 

Each person’s story is different, but the broad outlines of their journeys are similar. 

Who’s Eligible for a Lung Transplant?

Most commonly, patients are referred to the AdventHealth Transplant Institute by another lung doctor, but they can also apply themselves. Most patients listed to have a lung transplant can also list themselves at more than one transplant center if they choose.

The four most common conditions experienced by those who seek a lung transplant at AdventHealth are:

  1. Pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring of the lungs due to one of several causes, including smoking and pollutants like asbestos
     
  2. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, blocked airflow in the lungs
     
  3. Cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that causes a buildup of mucus in the lungs and other organs
     
  4. Pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure that affects the arteries that carry oxygen to the lungs

Even for those with a serious lung condition, a transplant is not always the right option. Even with AdventHealth’s better-than-average survival rates, there is a real chance of not surviving the first year. 

“After a transplant, 60 percent of people say their quality of life is better, but about 16 percent say it’s worse, because there are complications,” Dr. Gries says. 

If they choose a transplant, patients receive a score that determines their priority to receive a transplant when lungs become available. About 1,500 people are on the waiting list. 

“Lungs are a scarce resource and unfortunately there are hundreds of thousands of people with advanced lung disease in the United States,” Dr. Gries says.

Waiting Lists & Organ Donors

A lung transplant isn’t just about surgery. From the moment a patient is accepted into the program, the team helps them stay healthy enough to remain on the waiting list and helps them care for their new lung or lungs after the transplant.

Staying as healthy as possible during the pre-transplant period is important because poor health can reduce a patient’s priority for transplant. That’s because the likelihood of a person surviving a transplant is factored into their score. It makes sense to give organs to people who are ill enough to get the most benefit, but not to those so ill that they may not survive the transplant.

But once they’re on the list, AdventHealth patients tend not to have a long wait.

“One of the things we’re proud about is that we have less than a 10-day wait on average,” Dr. Gries says.

One factor behind the low waits is the urgency and persistence from program staff on securing donor organs. If a pair of lungs becomes available, the team is quick to send surgeon Duane Davis, MD, or another team member across the country to evaluate the lungs’ potential for a particular patient, a process that can be costly.                  

“Dr. Davis is one of the most highly recruited surgeons in the country and he believes in rigorously evaluating offers of potentially viable organs,” Dr. Gries says.

In addition, AdventHealth has the option of using the XVIVO Perfusion technology to improve lungs that may otherwise not be suited for transplant, and give them a “tune-up” to make them suitable for transplant. 

“We’re very blessed at AdventHealth to have the best facilities, resources and teams to care for our patients,” she says.

What’s Involved in the Surgery?

After lung transplant candidates receive an offer, they undergo surgery at AdventHealth Orlando, which usually takes about six to eight hours. Within a day of surgery, patients are generally breathing with their new lungs but stay at the hospital for two or three weeks on average.

Recovery

“We want to make sure people can exercise their lungs before they leave, and we require patients to walk a mile a day before discharge,” Dr. Gries says. Developing a post-discharge plan — both for lung health and for related issues, like nutrition — is another key part of follow up.

After they leave the hospital, patients attend regular rehabilitation classes for the first few months to ensure their new lungs remain healthy. After that, they continue to check in at least every six months for the rest of their lives.

Why AdventHealth for Your Lung Transplant?

“You are not only taking care of lungs, you’re taking care of the whole person,” Dr. Gries says. “You get to know their whole family, their children, pets, their dreams and aspirations. That’s what I love about what I do.”

Patients and families traveling more than 35 miles can stay at the Bartch Transplant House, which provides support and amenities at an affordable cost.

The AdventHealth Transplant Institute’s lung transplant team knows patients need more than an operation in order to fully heal. They believe in guiding patients through the transplant process emotionally and spiritually as well as physically to provide whole-health care.

Visit our website to learn more and download an application or call us at Call407-303-2474 .

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