Lung transplants may be needed for a wide variety of reasons. A patient who requires a new organ won’t be listed on the regional and national waiting lists unless they are deemed to be a viable recipient. This includes how likely someone will live without a transplant and how long they may live after the transplant is successfully performed. Both attributes have scores associated with them and those with higher scores get first crack at donor organs.
Facts About Lung Transplant Survival
1. For adult lung transplant patients who have survived past the 1 year mark post-transplant, the average half-life for their lung graft is 4.8 years.
2. The number of patients living with a functioning lung graft in 2009 was 7,425, more than twice as many as 10 years ago.
3. Only about 1 in 5 lungs from deceased donors is viable for transplantation.
4. The median case cost associated with lung transplant through 2007 for 33 centers and 766 cases is approximately $140,000.
5. The lungs were one of the last human organs that was successfully transplanted. Until the 1980s, infections or rejection killed every patient within a few days or weeks of their operation.
6. In the 20 years before the first successful lung transplant occurred, 38 patients received an operation.
7. About 10% of people who reach the organ donation waiting list for a lung transplant will pass away before they are able to receive a donation.
8. The 1 year survival rate after a lung transplant in the United States: about 90%. By the 5 year mark, however, the survival rates dip to 55%.
9. Only 1 in 3 lung transplant recipients will make it to their 10 year post-surgery anniversary.
10. 2 out of 3 children who receive a lung transplant will survive at least 3 years after the operation.
11. 1,400. That’s the average number of lung transplants that are performed in the United States every year.
12. There is an average of 2,000 people on the organ donation waiting lists at any given time for a lung transplant. About 100 people at any given time are on the waiting lists for a heart/lung dual transplant annually.
13. Having a college education when needing a lung transplant increases the long-term survival chances of a successful operation by 40%.
14. Perfect or near-perfect matches increase the viability of a lung transplant by up to 38%.
15. Double lung transplant operations tend to be more successful than single lung transplants.
16. The Johns Hopkins Hospital is involved in almost all of the fully paired organ transplants that occur in the United States. This includes 15 of 17 in 2008, 20 of 22 in 2007 and 20 of 23 in 2006.
17. About 154 people on average are added to the US waiting list every year. About 50% of those new listings occur at the UCLA Medical Center.
18. 50.8% of the waiting list registrations in the US occur in the 50-64 age demographic.
19. Just 4.3% of new waiting list registrations for a lung transplant occur in children aged 17 or younger.
20. Women [59.6%] are more likely to be placed on the waiting list for a lung transplant when compared to men [40.4%].
21. Almost half of all lung transplant patients added to the US waiting list have an O blood type. Just 2.9% of lung transplant patients in need have the AB blood type.
22. 3.1%. That’s the percentage of people who are waiting for a new lung and have already received a previous transplant operation.
23. COPD and Emphysema are the leading causes of needing a lung transplant, accounting for 42.5% of all cases.
24. Cystic Fibrosis is the second most common reason to need a lung transplant, accounting for 35% of the total cases.
25. About 300 people die every year in the US while waiting for a lung transplant. That includes 16 children under the age of 18.
26. 90% of those who pass away from complications from their lung transplant do so because of acute cellular rejections.
27. For people who score in the 50th percentile or less when scored for transplant viability, the length of waiting time to receive a new lung at most is 6.8 months. In the 75th percentile or less, it may take 3 years or more to receive a transplant.
28. In the US, 83% of those who receive a lung transplant are Caucasian. 8.6% are African-American, while 6.3% are Hispanic.
29. About 10% of the lung transplants that occur in the United States take place in the state of California.
30. Although women are added more often to the organ transplant waiting lists more often than men, it is men who receive a majority [60.4%] of the lung transplant operations.
31. People with a body mass index of 21-25 are the most likely to receive a lung transplant. Just 7.7% of transplant operations occur in individuals with a BMI that is above 31.
32. 3 out of 4 people who receive a lung transplant operation are not hospitalized at the time there is an organ ready for transplantation.
33. Out of the 24% of people who are hospitalized and waiting for a lung transplant, more than half of them are being observed in the ICU.
34. 34% of the lung transplants that become available for donation occur because of a death due to a stroke.
35. Although more than 8 out of 10 lung transplant recipients are Caucasian, just 6 out of 10 donor organs comes from this racial demographic.
36. 45% of the lungs that are donated from deceased individuals come from the 18-34 age demographic.
37. 39,718 transplants were performed in 2019.
38. 16 days. That’s the average length of a hospital stay for a patient who receives a lung transplant. People who receive more than one organ transplant, however, are excluded from this statistic.
39. Despite medical improvements, the lung transplant survival rates have only improved by about 5% over the last decade.
40. In the first year after a lung transplant, infection is the leading cause of mortality. Bacterial infections are the most common, occurring in 32 of 51 studied episodes of infection.
41. When infection occurs, pneumonia happens in about half of all cases reported.
42. There is a direct connection to lung graft damage and an increased risk of a viral infection setting in.
43. Although a lung transplant may be a risky operation, one fact cannot be ignored: 100% of those who receive a lung transplant would die without the operation.
Unfortunately not everyone who makes the organ transplant waiting list is going to receive the lung that they need. There just aren’t enough donated lungs that are available. It is a difficult transplant because the lung must meet a certain shape and size for it to fit inside the chest cavity. The lack of registered organ donors is also problematic. In the US, only 25 per 1 million people have taken the official steps needed to be an organ donor.
As the facts and statistics show, the medical science behind this procedure has improved dramatically since 1981 when the first long-term transplant was successfully completed. These improvements have led to more people living with a lung transplant today than ever before in history. When compared to other transplant statistics and survival rates, however, it is clear to see that this is still a relatively risky procedure that still contains several barriers that must be overcome.
Life After a Lung Transplant Is Far From Easy
In the last 10 years, lung transplants have become a lot more common. They are also becoming more successful. Despite this, however, the lung transplant is one of the riskiest operations that is regularly recommended by physicians for those who are critically ill. The 1 year and 3 year survival rates have improved, but the 5 year survival rates have barely ticked upward in the last decade. Many physicians believe, in fact, that once a patient hits the 5 year mark that they will experience a slide downward in their health.
The reason why most patients die from the lung transplant is because they are experiencing chronic rejection. It causes the airways within the lung to slowly deteriorate and it happens far too often. No one knows how to stop this problem. Transplants have gotten better, but the puzzle of lung function deterioration is still killing more people than transplants are saving.
In time, more people will be able to benefit from successful lung transplantation as medical procedures continue to improve. Many people who receive a lung transplant show a very remarkable, sudden improvement of their symptoms immediately after their surgery. Yet 5 years later, many are also left gasping for breath and wondering if salvation will come. Until the surgery can become more reliable, it is important to register as an organ donor if possible so that everyone who is critically sick can still have the chance to take a breath of life.