Once your surgery has been completed and the lung transplant is a technical success, the issue of successfully living with a transplant becomes quite involved. The two major issues are rejection and infection.
Lung transplant recipients undergo specialized rehabilitation programs. The transplant team follows patients throughout this process -- and for the rest of their lives. Patients are seen as needed in the outpatient clinic. A transplant expert is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for questions or consultation.
Rejection is the natural process of your body that recognizes your new lung as being foreign to the body and attempts to destroy it. This reaction originates within your immune system. This is similar to the way your body identifies a splinter in your finger as a foreign object. The redness and inflammation in the area of the splinter is an immune response. To prevent rejection, you must be treated with immunosuppressants, medications that interfere with the body's normal immune response.
We expect that you will have episodes of rejection in the first several months after transplant. The treatment requires that you receive doses of the anti-rejection medications intravenously. You will require frequent blood sampling to determine the levels of immunosuppressant drugs, as each individual is unique and requires an individualized approach. The goal is to find the lowest immunosuppressant dose that will prevent rejection and therefore minimize the risk of infection and side effects from the medications. Failure to take these medications will result in the rejection of your new lung.
Because your immune system is suppressed to prevent you from rejecting your new lung, you will be more prone to infection. We will monitor your temperature for sign of infection and your count for white blood cells, which help fight infections. Infections are generally treated with antibiotics and you will be asked to take certain medications on a regular basis to prevent certain types of infection. You may have to undergo intermittent short courses of intravenous antibiotics. The signs of infection are redness, swelling and tenderness at a surgical site. A new lung infection may begin with a mild fever, new cough and change in lung secretions.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.