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After Lung Transplant: What to Expect

At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center, our short- and long-term survival rates for lung transplant consistently exceed national averages. This is due in part to our expert care after your surgery.

After lung transplant surgery, we are here to guide you through the recovery process and provide follow-up care for the rest of your life. We also prescribe and manage medications to help prevent rejection, called immunosuppressive medications, and monitor you for signs of organ rejection. Our posttransplant nurse coordinators work closely with you to manage your health, answer any questions about your recovery and arrange follow-up care.

To learn more about the earlier steps in the transplant process, read about lung transplant surgery and what to expect before lung transplant.

Lung Transplant Recovery

You can expect to stay in the hospital for about three weeks after surgery. During your hospital stay, you receive physical therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation to help you regain your strength. After leaving the hospital, you need to stay in the St. Louis area for three months. During this time, our specialists monitor you closely, including:

  • Frequent doctor visits for lung and heart function tests, blood tests, and X-rays
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation sessions five days a week

During recovery, regular exercise and good eating habits can help you return to a normal, active routine. However, you do need to avoid strenuous activity and heavy lifting for the first six months after transplant. Most patients are ready to return to work or school within three to six months.

Follow-Up

After your three-month stay in St. Louis, you need ongoing follow-up care. Lung transplant recipients living in the St. Louis area generally visit our specialists monthly for check-ups. People who live farther away may visit us every two months, while also having regular visits with a local pulmonologist, or lung doctor. Pulmonary rehabilitation can also take place at a facility closer to home.

Our specialists work closely with your primary care doctor and referring pulmonologist throughout the life of the transplant to monitor you for organ rejection. We also work together to treat conditions that may result from taking immunosuppressive (antirejection) medications, including high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney disease.

Lung Transplant Medications

After transplant, you need antirejection medications to suppress your immune system so your body doesn't reject your transplant. Because these medications suppress your immune system, you are more prone to infection, especially during the first three to six months after surgery. Our specialists can advise you on how to prevent and recognize infection.

Our transplant team helps you manage and understand your medications, including any over-the-counter drugs.

It’s important to let us know about any medication questions you have or any unusual side effects you experience. Our financial coordinator is also available to help with any questions about insurance drug coverage.

Monitoring for Lung Transplant Rejection

Rejection is the immune system’s response to a transplanted organ. While your medications suppress your immune system and decrease the likelihood of rejection, you may still experience a rejection episode.

You can reduce this risk by carefully following your care plan and medication instructions.

Report any signs of rejection to your nurse coordinator or doctor immediately. Treatment for organ rejection usually includes increased doses of antirejection drugs or other medications.

Signs of rejection include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Fever

Fiberoptic bronchoscopy

One of the ways your transplant team monitors you for rejection is with fiberoptic bronchoscopy. This procedure allows your doctor to examine the major air passages of the lungs and take small samples of tissue and fluid.

We perform the procedure with mild sedation. Your doctor inserts a bronchoscope—a narrow, flexible tube with a small camera—through your mouth and into your windpipe. You can expect to have about five bronchoscopies in the first year following your transplant.

Contact Us

For more information on the lung transplant program or to schedule an evaluation at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 866.888.9337.


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