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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

A heart-lung transplant is surgery for someone with life-threatening heart and breathing problems. Surgeons remove the damaged heart and lungs and replace them with a healthy heart and lungs from a person who has died. The person receiving the new heart and lungs (the recipient) is someone with a high chance of dying within one to two years without a transplant. The person providing the healthy heart and lungs (the donor) is someone who is brain dead, but still on life-support machinery.

Currently, surgeons perform very few heart-lung transplants each year in the United States. This number is small because there is a shortage of suitable donors and the requirements for heart-lung donation are stricter than those for heart donation alone. Only a small percent of people who are suitable heart donors also fit the criteria for donating both heart and lungs.

Heart-lung donors are usually younger than 50 years old, have no history of heart or lung problems and are free from infectious diseases. Donor and recipient should be about the same height and weight so that their lungs are about the same size. The donor's chest X-ray must be normal, and the donor's lungs must have normal elasticity (ability to expand). The blood types of the recipient and donor also must be a good match.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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