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How are donor lungs screened before transplantation?

The major reason people must wait for a lung transplant is the limited number of donor lungs available for transplant. While many strategies have been developed to expand the number of donors, there still are not enough organs for all the people who are waiting. Unfortunately, for a transplant to occur, someone must agree to donate their organs after they die.

Advances in transplantation have made it possible to expand the donor pool with lungs that in the past may have been determined to be unsuitable for transplant. An organ is accepted only if it is believed to be of excellent quality and compatibility with the recipient.

The type of donor is based on the definition used to determine death. In short, there are two general categories used to describe those who can donate lungs: brain dead donors and cardiac death donors.

When an organ donor is identified, a group of surgeons are sent to evaluate the lungs. Because of time constraints, people are called in to come to the hospital before the surgeons have inspected the lungs. If for any reason the lungs are determined to be unsuitable, the surgery is canceled and the transplant candidate sent home while retaining his or her place on the waiting list. This sometimes happens in lung transplant teams' efforts to provide the best lungs possible for candidates.

Accepting a donor organ from another human being has several risks; the most common potential risks are primary non-function, rejection, infection and cancer. All transplant donors are screened very carefully prior to donation to minimize these risks.

On occasion, an appropriate donor may become available whose past history places them at a slightly increased risk for viral infections, such as HIV, or hepatitis B or C. Penn Medicine is required by law to inform patients if a donor becomes available that is considered high risk based on criteria established by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for transmission of disease.

Prior to transplant surgery, the surgeons use their best medical judgment to decide whether or not to accept and transplant this donor organ(s). This decision is based on the donor’s medical criteria, condition and history at the time of the organ offer. The transplant surgeons balance this information with the real risk that a candidate's condition may worsen and the person will become too sick for transplant or even die.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.