The lungs are essential in transporting oxygen to the rest of the body. When lungs cease to function normally, whether from damage or disease, a lung transplant – a surgical procedure to replace one or both diseased lungs with a healthy lung(s), usually from a deceased donor – may be necessary. In some situations, the lungs may be transplanted along with a donor heart.
The Memorial Hermann Lung Transplant program partners with the Center for Advanced Heart Failure at the Memorial Hermann Heart and Vascular Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center (TMC), a recognized national leader in the treatment of advanced cardiothoracic disease. Affiliated physicians, with a long history of clinical excellence, are supported by a multidisciplinary team of dedicated healthcare professionals.
Lung Transplant Team
The multidisciplinary lung transplant team at the Transplant Center is led by affiliated pulmonary and critical care specialist Soma Jyothuyla, MD, and affiliated cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon Keshava Rajagopal, MD, PhD. Drs. Jyothula and Rajagopal are respectively medial and surgical directors of the Lung Transplant program at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and associate professors at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston. The team is comprised of transplant surgeons, transplant pulmonologists, transplant cardiologists, transplant nurses, transplant anethesiologists, transplant coordinators, financial counselors, social workers and dietitians.
Lung Conditions That May Require Transplant
The following are common diseases or conditions which may require a lung transplant.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term used to describe progressive lung diseases, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and non-reversible asthma. The most common symptoms are shortness of breath, wheezing and chronic coughing with mucus. COPD is often caused by long-term exposure to cigarette smoke or environmental pollutants, but can also be caused by genetic factors. While COPD cannot be cured, inhalers and steroids may be used to minimize further damage.
- Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a progressive and irreversible form of lung disease that causes fibrosis, or scarring, of lung tissue for an unknown reason. Over time, the scarring worsens, typically causing breathlessness and chronic cough. While the exact cause is unknown, risk factors include cigarette smoking, genetics, being male and being 50 years of age or older. There is currently no cure for IPF, or treatments that can remove the scarring from the lungs. There are, however, medications and therapies to help alleviate symptoms.
- Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic (inherited) disorder in which a defective gene causes a thick, sticky buildup of mucus in the lungs (as well as other organs), causing wheezing or shortness of breath, chronic cough and frequent lung infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia. CF may ultimately lead to extensive lung damage and respiratory failure. While there is no cure for CF, people with CF are living longer lives due to research and advancements in care.
- Idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension (IPAH), formerly known as primary pulmonary artery hypertension, is a rare lung disorder characterized by high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries (arteries that carry blood from the right side of the heart to the lungs). The condition results in the thickening and narrowing of tiny arteries in the lungs, which reduces blood flow and raises blood pressure in the lungs. Initially, symptoms may not be present, but as the condition progresses, symptoms may include tiredness, shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitations, fainting, dizziness and swelling in the legs. IPAH occurs spontaneously and has no known cause, although the disease occurs more often in women of childbearing age than men. Other risk factors include family history of the disease, other conditions, such as lupus, scleroderma, cirrhosis, HIV and the use of methamphetamines and cocaine. There is no known cure; however, the goal of treatment is to minimize symptoms and slow the progression of the condition.
- Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency (Alpha-1) is a genetic (inherited) condition that may result in serious lung disease in adults. Respiratory-related symptoms may include shortness of breath, wheezing, chronic bronchitis, exercise intolerance, chronic allergies and bronchiectasis (chronic condition where the walls of the airways, or bronchi, are thickened from inflammation and infection). Patients with Alpha 1 lung disease are treated with augmentation therapy which is an intravenous infusion of alpha-1 antitrypsin protein (AAT) from the blood plasma of healthy human donors. The goal of therapy is to stop or slow the progression of lung destruction.
- Other conditions, including the replacement of previously transplanted lungs that have since failed, or conditions, such as bronchiectasis or sarcoidosis (the growth of tiny collections of inflammatory cells in different parts of the body), which adversely affect the lungs.
The Lung Donation Process
Life-saving lung transplantation is made possible through the generous "gifts of life" by donors. The most common way people can become regsitered donors is at the time of obtaining or renewing their driver's licenses, or through DonateLifeTexas.org. If a deceased patient has not registered, but is a candidate for donation, his or her next-of-kin can provide consent for donation on his or her behalf. Currently, about half of Texans are registered donors, and there are over 100,000 individuals awaiting organ transplants in the U.S.
The donor's organs and/or tissues are recovered by an organ procurement organization (OPO). The OPO serving the Greater Houston are is LifeGift. To learn more about the organ donation process, click here.
Lung Transplantation Process
Click here to read about the lung transplantation process, from the time a patient decides to consider lung transplantation through recovery from transplantation surgery.
Single Versus Double Lung Transplantation
While many patients can benefit from the transplantation of a single healthy lung, others may require both lungs to be replaced. Patients with cystic fibrosis, or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, for instance, may require double-lung transplantations. Other variables, such as age and previous chest surgeries for example, will affect the decision about single vs. double lung transplantation.
If you are considering lung transplantation, your transplant physician and surgeon will discuss with you the options available and which procedure might be right for you.
Transplant Support Group
Transplantation can sometimes seem overwhelming for patients and their caregivers. The Transplant Center offers a transplant support group, run by our transplant social workers. The group meets monthly and includes patients who are waiting for a transplant as well as those who have already received a transplant. Adult family members, friends and caregivers are welcomed and encouraged to attend with the patient.
To learn more about our transplant support group, call (713) 704-5200.