After your health care provider has determined you are a good candidate for a lung transplant, the Lung Transplant Team will help you begin the search for an organ donor.
Once you are eligible for a lung transplant, the Northeast Ohio Organ Procurement Agency (known as LifeBanc) enters your name and blood test results on the United Network for Organ Sharing’s (UNOS) computerized national waiting list. This waiting list assures equal access and fair distribution of organs when they become available through organ donation.
When a lung becomes available for transplantation, it is given to the best possible match, based on blood type, tissue (HLA) type, crossmatch compatibility, the length of time the recipient has been waiting and the number of lungs the recipient needs. If a perfect match (six antigen match) is identified through the national list, the recipient matching the donor will be notified.
Where does the new lung come from?
Donor lungs are located through UNOS. The donor may have recently died or be brain dead, which means that although the donor’s body is being kept alive by machines, the brain has no sign of life. Donors give their permission for organ donation before their death; the donor’s family also must give consent for organ donation at the time of the donor’s death.
An organ recipient and donor must have compatible blood types and similar body sizes. At the time of death, the donor’s lung is completely removed, cooled and stored in a special solution for organ donation. Immediately after the donor’s lung is removed, it is transported to the recipient’s transplant center where the transplant takes place as soon as possible.
Many people who are waiting for transplantation have mixed feelings because they are aware that someone must die before an organ becomes available. It may help to know that many donor families feel a sense of peace knowing that some good has come from their loved one’s death.
What blood tests are performed to identify a compatible donor?
The greater the blood compatibility shared by a donor and the recipient, the greater the chance of a successful transplant.
ABO Blood type
First, a simple blood test is performed to determine the blood type of the donor and recipient. Here’s how your blood type should be compatible with your potential donor’s blood type:
- If you are blood type A, your donor should have blood type A or O.
- If you are blood type B, your donor should have blood type B or O.
- If you are blood type O, the donor must have blood type O. (A person with blood type O is called a universal donor because he or she can donate to people of all blood types.)
- If you have blood type AB (universal acceptor), your donor can have blood type AB, A, B or O.
Tissue typing evaluates the compatibility or closeness of tissue between the organ donor and recipient. An HLA (human leukocyte antigens) blood test is used to determine tissue type and help find the best genetic match for you. In an HLA blood test, the tissue typing lab can identify and compare information about you and your donor’s antigens (the “markers” in cells that stimulate antibody production).
Continuing research is being performed to develop medications and treatments that can boost the success rate when the tissue match is not very close.
In crossmatching, your blood and the potential donor's blood are placed together in a test tube and examined to see if there is cell death.
If all the cells survive without death of the donor's cells, there is a negative crossmatch, which is considered a good result. If the cells of the donor begin to die, a positive crossmatch results and the potential donor is disqualified. By performing this test, the Lung Transplant Team can determine if the lung will be accepted once the actual transplant takes place.
How long will I have to wait before I receive my transplant?
Locating a suitable donor takes time. It is impossible to predict how long a wait there will be before a lung becomes available. The average wait is about one year; however, it’s possible the wait could be from a few days to many years. Some people may have to wait longer than others for their transplants because their blood and tissue types may be less common, so it takes longer to find a compatible match.
Even when a donor is located, the surgery may not take place. If there is a problem with the donor lung or if you have an infection, the surgery cannot be performed. About 30 percent of all lung transplants are canceled the first time; if this happens, you must wait for another donor to become available.
Does it matter who the donor is?
You do not need to be concerned about the gender, age or race of your lung donor. You will not develop any of the donor’s characteristics. Remember, the lung that you will receive has been carefully matched to your body size, tissue and blood type, and is the best suitable match for you.
For More Information
If you have any questions or concerns, please call us at 216.444.6996. We will be happy to answer your questions.