Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Top Ten Most Surprising Things about a Bilateral Lung Transplant

     In honor of David Letterman's departure from the airways last night, I am doing a Top Ten List.  Based on only my own experiences, here are the Top Ten Most Surprising Things about a Bilateral Lung Transplant.

10.   The lungs weren't even in the room yet when the anesthesiologist put me under.  (Waking up and finding out the on-site evaluation demonstrated that the lungs weren't viable for transplant was my biggest fear once I got into the OR.)

9.   My sternum, which was cut in order to remove the old lungs and replace the new ones, is held together by metal pieces that look like a caterpillar.  I could have been given a set up that looks like a ninja star, but I won't quibble.  It only shows up in X-Rays anyway.

8.   I can't eat grapefruit anymore, because it reacts very badly with anti-rejection meds.  I always hated grapefruit anyway, but I do miss Fresca from time to time.   

7.   My lungs might be from someone who was of a different race and/or gender than me.  Although I have not heard from my donor family as of yet, I do know that my lungs had to be a proper size, blood, and tissue type match.  Hypothetically, they could have come from a teenage girl who is black or an adult male who is hispanic.

6.   Since transplanted lungs are not fully connected to my nervous system, I could not feel it if I were to, say, inhale dust or start to become congested.  I need to make a conscious effort to cough and clear secretions.  (I do still cough spontaneously, but drastically less than before.)

5.   A heart-lung machine kept me alive during parts of the surgery.  A prototype was created in 1885, but a successful use of the machine did not happen for almost seventy years.  While the cardiopulmonary bypass pump was being used, my body temperature was kept between 83 and 89 degrees.  Balmy.

4.   While bilateral lung transplant surgeries typically take eight to ten hours, mine took sixteen.  Much of this extra time came from the need to remove my old lungs centimeter by centimeter because of the amount of scar tissue connecting my lungs to my chest wall.

3.   For several months, virtually all of the blood in my body was not my own.  Over the course of those sixteen hours, I was given 30 units of blood.  This is roughly two to three times the total amount of blood in my body.  Blood cells last several months, which explained why my endocrinologist couldn't use any of the long-term data that my blood tests provided two months after the transplant:  they were reflective of the blood sugar ratios in the bodies of those who donated the blood, not mine!

2.  My scar is from a "clamshell" incision, which goes horizontally, rather than vertically, like this:
This was created after I foolishly Googled "clamshell lung transplant
scar" and saw so, so many images that I wish I could erase from
my memory.  (I'm not good with medical gore!)

1.  The new lungs in my body will never "get" Cystic Fibrosis.  These lungs are, and always will be, genetically healthy.  They might get infections from my sinuses, which still have CF, and they are susceptible to more bugs since my whole body is immune-suppressed, but the lungs won't slowly become "CF lungs" over time.


  1. This was good for some giggles!!! I looooove medical gore!!! Even when it was my own child. Yes, I realize how wrong this may seem to some. This was also very educating!

  2. Thanks!

    My brother in law watched a lung transplant on YouTube after he learned I needed to have one. For me, the more in the dark I was about the nitty gritty of the procedure, the better.