How a lung transplant is performed 

A lung transplant normally takes between four and 12 hours depending on the complexity of the operation.

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

Your chest will be opened and preparations made to remove the diseased lung or lungs.

If your circulation looks like it will need help, a cardiopulmonary bypass machine may be used to keep your blood circulating during the operation.

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

Tubes are left in the chest to drain any build-up of blood and fluid, and these will stay in place for several days.

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

New surgical techniques

There are two 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 taken from people who have died but whose heart is kept beating using life-support equipment – often these are people who have died after a long illness.

It is now possible to take lungs from a person who has died suddenly and then keep that lung "alive" for around an hour by passing oxygen into it. The oxygen keeps the biological processes of the lung going, which preserves the lung.

Ex vivo lung perfusion

Lungs can be damaged when the brain dies, before they are removed for donation. Because of this, only one in five 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 special piece of equipment known as 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 available donations.

Page last reviewed: 09/07/2014

Next review due: 09/07/2016