If your lung disease becomes so severe that medicines and breathing machines are no longer helpful, a single- or double-lung transplant at the UNC Center for Transplant Care may offer a breath of fresh hope.
At the UNC Center for Transplant Care, you’ll find compassionate, individualized care coupled with the expertise and groundbreaking treatment techniques available only at an academic medical center.
Leaders in Lung Transplant
Founded in 1989, the lung transplant program at UNC Medical Center is one of the oldest and most respected in the country. We’ve performed more than 400 single- or double-lung transplants, including approximately 200 double-lung transplants for people with cystic fibrosis. Our first double-lung transplant patient, who received his new lungs in 1990, is now in his 50s and thought to be the world’s longest-surviving double-lung recipient.
Nationally Recognized Lung Care
Your treatment team will include physicians from pulmonology—a UNC specialty recognized in 2014 as among the best the country by U.S. News & World Report. They’ll work hand-in-hand with the rest of your transplant team to provide individualized, multi-disciplinary care and support to you and your family.
In addition, you can be assured of our commitment to quality care because we are recognized by Blue Cross Blue Shield as a Blue Distinction Center for our adult lung transplant program. That means we have a proven track record of delivering better overall outcomes for our transplant patients.
Innovative Research to Benefit You
You’ll also benefit from our dedication to advancing knowledge so we can help more lung patients. UNC Medical Center is one of only a few centers in the United States with FDA approval to test ex-vivo lung perfusion, an innovative technique to perfuse and ventilate human lungs outside the body. UNC researcher and internationally-recognized pioneer in lung transplantation, Tom Egan, MD, is the principal investigator for an NIH Study to test ex-vivo on lungs from a donor who died suddenly outside the hospital. This research could drastically increase the number of lungs suitable for transplant.
Conditions That May Require a Lung Transplant
At UNC Medical Center, you’ll find a team that’s especially well-known for treating cystic fibrosis, and has performed lung transplants for many common respiratory disorders, including:
- Alpha1-antitypsin deficiency – A genetic disorder that affects the lungs and liver
- Bronchiectasis – Inflammation of the lung’s airways
- Cystic fibrosis – A genetic disorder that causes thick mucus to build up in the lungs, digestive tract and other areas
- Emphysema – A disease that damages air sacs in your lungs
- Eosinophilic granulomatosis (EGPA) – Formerly known as Churg-Strauss, a disease that causes inflammation of the blood vessels
- Pulmonary fibrosis – A disease that results in damaged, scarred lungs
- Pulmonary hypertension – High blood pressure in the arteries to your lungs
- Sarcoidosis – An inflammatory disease that affects lungs and other organs
If you also need a new heart, you may be a candidate for a heart-lung transplant, a procedure that replaces both organs in a single operation.
Specialized Facilities and Services
You’ll find dedicated lung transplant facilities and services at UNC Medical Center, including:
- Specialized operating rooms for cardiothoracic surgery
- An intensive care unit (ICU) staffed by nurses specially trained in the care of transplant patients
- A dedicated pre-transplant Pulmonary Rehab program to make sure your body’s in the best possible condition for your transplant
- An extensive post-transplant rehabilitation program to get you back to the activities you enjoy
- Weekly transplant clinics both before and after surgery
- A support group especially for lung transplant patients and their caregivers
- Specialized services for pediatric transplant patients and their families
When you choose UNC for your transplant, you have access to extensive support services. Learn about other services for you and your family.
Coordinated Care Every Step of the Way
Dedicated lung transplant coordinators will serve as your expert guides from your initial evaluation through surgery and beyond. These specially trained nurses will arrange your medical tests, listen to your concerns, answer questions, act as liaison between you and the rest of your transplant team, teach you how to care for your body after a transplant, and more.
Lung Transplant Evaluation
After your doctor refers to you to the UNC Center for Transplant Care, you’ll start with a comprehensive evaluation. We’ll learn about you, your medical condition and how you and your family or other caregivers would cope with the stress of a transplant procedure. It’s also an opportunity for you to get to know us and learn more about lung transplantation.
You’ll meet with our specialists—including surgeons, pulmonologists, psychiatrists and social workers—and go through a series of routine tests, including:
- A Pap smear and mammogram for women
- A prostate-specific antigen test (PSA) for men
- A colonoscopy for individuals older than 50
- Blood tests for hepatitis, HIV and other immune sensitivities
- A bone density scan to evaluate your risk for bone loss and fractures
- A chest X-ray to check your heart and lung health
- Pulmonary function tests – Exams that measure how well your lungs take in and release air
- A lung perfusion scan – A test that measures air and blood flow in your lungs
- An echocardiogram – An ultrasound that shows how well your heart is beats and pumps blood
- Cardiac catheterization – A minimally-invasive procedure that shows how well the heart pumps and measures pressures in the heart and lungs
These tests may be followed by two or three days in the hospital for follow-up tests and procedures, depending on your needs.
You can expect to qualify for transplantation if you’re 65 years old or younger, have end-stage lung disease that’s not responsive to medical therapies, have no other serious diseases or infections, and are strong enough to undergo a long operation and recovery.
Lung Transplant Candidacy & Pre-Transplant Care
If tests show you’re a good candidate for a lung transplant, you’ll be listed with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
Depending on your size, blood type and type of transplant needed, you can expect to wait for days to months or more. While you wait for your new lung or lungs, you’ll continue to meet regularly with your transplant team at our pre-transplant clinic, and we’ll stay in close contact with your referring doctor in order to keep you in the best health possible.
If you’re not a good candidate for transplantation, we’ll refer you to other UNC Medical Center specialists for the best ongoing treatment for your condition and continue to assist in treating you.
Lung Transplant Surgery
When a donor lung or lungs becomes available, your transplant coordinator will contact you and preparations for your surgery will begin.
During the operation, your diseased lung(s) will be removed and replaced with the donor organ(s). The surgeon will connect the lung(s) to your airway and connect its blood vessels to your heart. If you’re having a double-lung transplant, the surgeon will remove and replace the lungs one at a time.
A single-lung transplant surgery usually takes four to eight hours. A double-lung transplant can last six to 12 hours.
Lung Transplant Follow Up Care
Immediately following your transplant surgery, you’ll recover in the intensive care unit for a few days, then move to a special transplant unit, where you’ll stay for two to three weeks, depending on your condition. Your doctors and nurses will monitor you closely in order to identify and treat any potential problems as soon as possible. You’ll also begin taking anti-rejection medications to give your body the best chance of accepting your new lung or lungs.
After you’re released from the hospital, you and referring physician will stay in close contact with your transplant team to track your progress and watch for complications. Your UNC Medical Center team will always be available for questions or follow-up care.
You’ll also be encouraged to participate in our extensive post-transplant pulmonary rehabilitation program, which will help you regain your strength in a safe setting as you recover from surgery.
Lung Transplant Offers 'New Chance at Life'
Luella Love never let cystic fibrosis be her excuse to miss out on life experiences. But as her disease progressed, she had to give up running and, eventually, her job. Then, at age 48, she got a double-lung transplant at the UNC Medical Center. Now she wants to dance, run and be an advocate for organ donation. Hear more about Luella’s life-changing experience at UNC Medical Center.