A lung transplant is performed to replace a lung or pair of lungs that is unable to perform adequate gas exchange. This may be the result of end-stage lung diseases, such as severe cases of emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary hypertension.
An incision is made on the side of the chest through the ribs and a rib may be removed. In some cases, patients need to be supported during transplant with a heart-lung machine. This machine pumps and oxygenates the blood. The diseased lung is removed from the chest and the donated lung is sutured into place. Finally, you are taken off the heart lung machine and the chest is closed.
Once the surgery is completed, you will be taken to the intensive care unit, where doctors and nurses will monitor your recovery. You will have a breathing tube in your mouth to help you breath until you are awake and strong enough to breath on your own. At this time you will not be able to talk because the tube goes through your vocal cords into the trachea. Once the tube is removed, you will be asked to deep breathe and cough frequently. You will have multiple IV lines and drainage tubes that will gradually be removed as your condition stabilizes and improves. Once your condition is stable, you will be transferred to a regular room in the transplant unit.
On an average you can expect to be about two to five days in the intensive care unit and about two to eight weeks in the hospital after a lung transplant.
Transplant patients require approximately six to eight weeks of recovery time. Afterwards, strenuous activities should be avoided. Immunosuppressive drugs must be taken for life.