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Lung Transplant - A Personal View

"Is it for me?"
by Tony Hamel


This is the question that many COPDers ask.

Hopefully, this will help you in that decision or in directing you to the right questions to ask your pulmonary doctor or your primary physician.  The answer from these professionals will vary from definitely "yes" to definitely "no." This is why you should always get at least two opinions about a transplant.

The preferable doctor to ask is the doctor most familiar with this procedure and that would be a pulmonary specialist. They will normally refer you to a transplant hospital that performs the surgery. There are transplant centers in almost every state.

The one thing about a transplant is that you trade one disease for another, so to speak. You are able to breathe again without oxygen support, but after your transplant you have to take autoimmune drugs for the rest of your life.

This lowers your resistance to disease and makes you more vulnerable to contracting disease. Also, the drugs are hard on your system. Kidneys and bone densities are the most affected.

Taking this into consideration, almost all lung transplant patients will say they would do it again if necessary.

Qualifications

These are a few of the qualifications for lung transplants:

  • Age

  • Overall physical health (considering lung condition)

  • Mental health
     

Many factors are considered for a person considering or wanting to qualify for a transplant, including blood type, tissue type, size and, of course, age along with other factors, such as CMV (Cytomegalovirus) positive or negative.  The center will attempt to match the new lung as closely as possible to help the body from rejecting the newly transplanted lung/lungs.

Series of tests

Anyone that is considered for a lung transplant must go through a series of tests to qualify.
The medical tests usually include:

  • X-Rays

  • Laboratory workup to check many organ functions, including kidneys, liver, heart.

  • Checkup for any ailments other than COPD.

  • A heart catheraterization to check for any blockages in the heart arteries and veins.

  • CAT Scan (Computed Axial Tomography) of the lungs.  This gives them a three-dimensional view of the lungs.

  • VQ Scan (Ventilation-Perfusion) to get a better picture of the lungs and how they are moving air and blood.

There is also a physiological exam to determine the stability of the recipient as to assure they can handle the medication regime after transplant.

The wait

Make your decision from what your doctor or doctors recommend and then choose a center close to home because when it gets close to the time of your transplant, you will have to be within two hours of your center.

The waiting for your transplant if that is your decision can be a challenge to you and your family. It is a stressful time. Waiting is hard when your waiting for a new life. Medications can help with this stress and anxiety and many transplant centers will recommend them. If so, use them.

You may and probably will get a " false alarm" call and possibly two or three before you get a good "go for transplant." This happens when you are called to the center because they have a "possible" match donor for you. Please re-read the last sentence. I did say a "possible donor."

Sometimes the match is not good and the surgeons will NOT jeopardize your life with a bad transplant. Many things I have stated before have to be just right. Be prepared for the " false alarm." The ride of the wait is like a Six Flags Roller Coaster. Attitude will get you through most of the tough times. Believe in yourself and your inner strength to survive and NEVER give up.

Recovery

In most cases the recovery is quite remarkable. You will wake up intubated. This is perfectly normal. Your new lung needs a little time to get to working full tilt and the intubation gives it time to heal and get to working.

Two or three days in ICU and then a stay on the telemetry floor, so they can still monitor your condition for possibly a week or 10 days. Then it's on to rehab and your "new life."

Please understand, this is not all rosey all the time. I had a rough start, but I would not change anything. I can breathe now. I will get to see my grandchildren grow up and get old with my wonderful wife.
What more can a man ask for?

Your drugs after transplant are like your oxygen before. They are what are going to keep you alive. If you do not stick to the regime of medications you must take, you will reject your newly transplanted organ and most likely die.

After a transplant, you will have to have a support person or persons in place for three months. Some centers say less time, but this is the most critical time after a transplant.

You will also attend pulmonary rehab for a six- to eight-week period with up to three sessions a week to get your stamina back after the transplant.

This may certainly seem like a lot. But if you do decide and your in the condition to warrant a lung transplant the outcome could be quite wonderful.

All lung transplants are not pure success. This is a very serious operation and something not to be taken lightly. Success rates vary from center to center.

There are many sites to go to and read about lung transplants and some personal sites of those who have had lung transplants.  Here a few sites that you can go to and read about transplants: http://www.olivija.com/tx and http://www.2ndwind.org.  There are links from both of these sites to many others.  Also, go to http://www.google.com and just type in the search window "lung transplant" and you find many more sites.

My Personal Experience

I had a single lung transplant on Feb 9th, 2001 at approximately 11 p.m.

I am doing wonderful and my “Gift of Life” has been exactly that - a pure gift. I can do so many things that I thought I would never do again.

Please visit my Web site at http://www.geocities.com/thamel5038/mystory.html, and read about my transplant and what it has meant to me and my family. If you have any questions whatsoever, please feel free to e-mail me anytime and I will do my best to answer whatever questions I can. If I do not have an answer, I will find it for you.

"Keep on Keepin' on"
Tony Hamel
THamel5038@aol.com

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