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Northwestern Medicine -- a leader in research, innovation and comprehensive, compassionate transplant care -- is proud to announce the launch of a new lung transplant program. Appointments are available to eligible patients immediately and lung transplant surgeries will begin in May.

"Lung transplantation provides patients with chronic and life threatening lung diseases a new set of lungs as well as a better quality of life," said Malcolm DeCamp, MD, chief of the division of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Northwestern Medicine has one of the premier organ transplantation programs in the country and the launch of our lung transplant program will allow us to provide care to more patients in need of organ transplants."

In Illinois, there are simply not enough lung transplant surgeries to meet the existing patient needs, forcing many to travel out of state. For example, in Missouri, a state of about 6 million, there is one transplant center that completed about 66 lung transplants in 2013. In contrast, only 52 lung transplants were performed at two centers in Illinois, a state of almost 13 million, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. 

One of the reasons for the limited lung transplant programs in Illinois may be the complexity and challenges associated with this type of organ transplantation.

"Lungs are one of the most difficult organs to transplant and manage," said Ankit Bharat, MD, a thoracic surgeon and surgical director of the Lung Transplant Program. "Unlike other organs, lungs are exposed to the external atmospheric elements during normal respiration, leading to possible infection and damage."

Lung transplant patients are dependent on oxygen to get through the day. While those suffering from cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary (COPD) and pulmonary fibrosis will make up about 70 to 80 percent of those eligible for lung transplants, patients suffering from a variety of other lung diseases will also be eligible, Bharat added.

"Lung transplant surgeries are complex and timing is critical," Bharat said. "Surgeons only have about six hours to transport lungs from a donor and transplant into the recipient. In addition, pre- and post-transplant care requires a highly coordinated effort by a number of different disciplines.    That's why it's so important to have a comprehensive and experienced group of physicians and staff leading the way. At Northwestern Memorial, we have the infrastructure and expertise to meet these challenges and will provide the highest quality transplant care to our patients."

The good news is that more than 80 percent of patients will survive one year after lung transplant surgery and approximately 80 percent say they have minimal to no limitations on their physical activity following the surgery, said Sangeeta Bhorade, MD, medical director of the lung transplant program.

"For patients who do well, their recovery after lung transplantation is remarkable," said Bhorade, who is also an associate professor of medicine at Feinberg School. "While transplant patients need to follow up regularly after their surgery, our goal is to enable patients to do things most of us take for granted every day – go shopping, visit friends and family, even go back to work. We will be helping some of the sickest patients return to their lives."

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