What Is Lung Transplantation?

Lung transplantation is the replacement of a diseased lung with a healthy lung from an organ donor, with the goal of improving the recipient’s quality of life.

While lung transplant is not a cure for lung disease, it has been shown to have an impressive record in prolonging life among patients with end-stage lung disease: 50 percent of patients live another five years, and 20 percent live another 10 years.

Lung transplantation may involve:

  • Single lung: Just one lung is replaced.
  • Double lung: Both lungs are replaced.
  • Bilateral sequential: Both lungs are replaced, but at different times.
  • Heart-lung transplant: The patient receives both a new heart and new lungs from a single donor.

As with all transplants and major surgeries, lung transplantation carries some risks, including:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Airway blockage
  • Pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
  • Rejection of the new lung

Advanced treatments for severe lung disease

Our multidisciplinary team* of lung transplant physicians are experienced in all manner of advanced lung disease. While waiting for a donor lung, or when a lung transplant is not a viable option, the team provides these innovative services:

  • Lung volume reduction: Thoracic surgeons remove small wedges of damaged lung tissue in order to help the remaining lung tissue function more efficiently. This can improve the quality of life in COPD patients.
  • Interventional bronchoscopy: An interventional pulmonologist can use this technique to perform bronchial dilatations, stent placement and endobronchial laser procedures to alleviate symptoms.
  • Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO): An innovative device is used as a “stopgap” for lengthening a candidate’s life until a transplant has been found. It provides direct oxygenation and allows the patient to move, eat and even gain strength. (By contrast, traditional ventilators can damage lungs by pushing air into them.)

Looking toward the future, other innovations are in development:

  • Ex vivo lung perfusion: This experimental option, not yet approved by the FDA, may lead to better ways to keep lungs (the most fragile of organs) stable during transplant. Northwestern Memorial Hospital is ready to become one of the clinical trial centers.
  • Genomic studies and immunosuppression research: These studies will ultimately provide more successful lung transplant outcomes.

Related Resources


The Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program


  • American Lung Association: This organization is working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease through research, education and advocacy.
  • American Society of Transplantation: This website’s Patient Information section offers a number of resources for transplant patients.
  • Coalition on Donation: The organization promotes organ donation and provides education about it.
  • Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network: Website of the not-for-profit organ procurement organization that works with hospitals and donor families in the northern three-fourths of Illinois and northwest Indiana. The organization is responsible for the recovery of organs and tissue for medical transplantation in the service area, as well as for professional and public education on organ and tissue donation.
  • MedlinePlus: This is a trusted source that covers all aspects of organ donation and provides easy access to medical journal articles, extensive information about drugs, an illustrated medical encyclopedia, interactive patient tutorials and the latest health news.
  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI): This division of the National Institutes of Health offers information about the lung transplantation process.
  • National Organ and Tissue Donation Initiative: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is undertaking this initiative to ease the critical shortage of organ and tissue donors by building a national community of organ sharing.
  • Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN): OPTN is a unique public-private partnership that links all of the professionals involved in the donation and transplantation system. Its goals are to increase the supply of donated organs available for transplantation and the effectiveness and efficiency of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
  • Transplant Living: This is the United Network for Organ Sharing patient education site for all transplant patients.
  • TransWeb: TransWeb's mission is to provide information about donation and transplantation to the general public to promote organ donation and to provide transplant families with information dealing specifically with transplant issues.
  • United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS): Through the UNOS Organ Center, organ donors are matched to waiting recipients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Through its policies, UNOS ensures that all patients have a fair chance at receiving the organ they need—regardless of age, sex, race, lifestyle, religion, or financial or social status. UNOS members include every transplant program, organ procurement organization and tissue typing laboratory in the United States.
  • U.S. Transplant—Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR): The SRTR supports the ongoing evaluation of the scientific and clinical status of solid organ transplantation in the United States.

In the spirit of keeping you well-informed, some of the physician(s) and/or individual(s) identified are neither agents nor employees of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare or any of its affiliate organizations. They have selected our facilities as places where they want to treat and care for their private patients.