Lung transplantHow it is performed

A lung transplant usually takes between 4 and 12 hours, depending on the complexity of the operation.

A lung transplant usually takes between 4 and 12 hours, depending on the complexity of the operation.

After you've had a general anaesthetic, a breathing tube will be placed down your throat so your lungs can be ventilated.

The surgeon will make an incision in your chest so that your chest can be opened and preparations made to remove the diseased lung or lungs.

If assistance with your circulation is needed, a cardiopulmonary bypass machine may be used to keep your blood circulating during the operation.

The old lung will be removed and the new lung sewn into place. When the transplant team is confident the new lung is working efficiently, your chest will be closed and you'll be taken off the bypass machine.

Tubes will be left in your chest for several days to drain any build-up of blood and fluid.

You'll be taken to the intensive care unit, where more tubes will be attached to supply your body with medication and fluids and to drain urine from your bladder.

New surgical techniques

There are 2 new surgical techniques that will hopefully increase the number of donor lungs available for donation. These are described below.

Transplant after a non-heart beating donation

Most donations are from people who've died but whose heart is kept beating using life-support equipment. These are often people who've died following a long illness.

It's now also possible for lungs to be taken from a person who's died suddenly, and to keep their lungs "alive" for around an hour by passing oxygen into them. The oxygen keeps the biological processes of the lungs going, which preserves them.

Ex vivo lung perfusion

Lungs can be damaged when the brain dies, before they're removed for donation. As a result of this, only 1 in 5 lungs are suitable for donation.

Ex vivo lung perfusion is a new technique designed to overcome this problem. It involves removing the lungs from the body and placing them in a piece of equipment called a perfusion rig.

Blood, protein and nutrients are then pumped into the lungs, which repairs the damage.

The technique is still in its infancy, but hopefully it will eventually lead to an increase in the number of lungs available for donation.

Page last reviewed: 27/06/2016
Next review due: 27/06/2019