Long recognized as a transplant leader

Getting a second opinion

If you’re a transplant patient, we know how important it is that you feel comfortable with both your doctors and the staff, as you will spend much time with them. UCHealth is happy to offer a second opinion. Ask your doctor to refer you for an appointment.

Since 1991, UCHealth’s lung transplant program has helped hundreds of patients lead fuller lives through transplant surgery.

Under the direction of Michael Weyant, MD and Alice Gray, MD, our program is based at University of Colorado Hospital in metro Denver. UCH is ranked among the top research hospitals in the nation.

Why choose UCHealth for your lung transplant?

Our transplant patients have access to the latest scientific and technological advancements that lead to better outcomes.

  • Our one-year survival rate of 91.4% is above the national average.
  • Our program uses a multidisciplinary approach, which means you can see your team of experts in one visit at one location.
  • We’re continually conducting research to minimize rejection and make better use of donor lungs.
  • We perform ex-vivo research to help increase the donor pool.
  • We devote an entire floor of the hospital to transplant patients.
  • The average hospital stay from date of transplant to discharge is 12 days.
  • Since 1991, we have performed more than 600 transplants.
  • UCHealth’s transplant program is the only center in Colorado performing all solid organ transplants (kidney, pancreas, liver, lung and heart).
  • Our transplant program follows post-transplant patients in all 50 states plus Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and other foreign countries.
  • In 2015, University of Colorado Hospital was ranked #2 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
  • University of Colorado Hospital is continually ranked as the #1 hospital in Colorado by U.S. News & World Report.
About lung transplants
A lung transplant may be the only option for someone with end-stage lung disease who has not responded to conventional treatment, and whose survival is predicted at less than two years.

Reasons you might need a lung transplant:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • interstitial lung disease (ILD)
  • Cystic fibrosis (CF)
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency

Read story: UCH helps woman breathe easier with new set of lungs.

We perform two types of lung transplants:

  • A single lung transplant replaces one diseased lung with a donor lung
  • A bilateral lung transplant replaces both diseased lungs with two donor lungs
What to expect - your evaluation for transplant

Before you receive a lung transplant, you’ll have a series of tests to determine your current health. After these tests are performed, various members of the transplant medical team will conduct a thorough evaluation. Our evaluation process takes about three days. In these days, we incorporate different screenings and tests, as well as appointments, with our team members in order to review your health status.

Following this, your case will be presented to the Lung Transplant Candidate Selection Committee. The committee is made up of our multidisciplinary team that includes transplant program doctors, cardiothoracic surgeons, nurse coordinators, social workers, transplant pharmacists, financial coordinators, dietitians and more. They determine whether lung transplant surgery is safe for you. They also will discuss an optimal plan of care for you after transplant. It will take approximately one to two weeks to review your case. Your transplant coordinator will inform you of the committee’s decision and plan.

Once you are accepted for transplant, your information is entered on the active lung transplant waiting list, and the search begins for a new lung(s) for you.

What to expect - transplant waiting list

The University of Colorado Hospital Transplant Program follows the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) system for prioritizing transplant candidates. UNOS is a nationwide network supervised by the federal government to help ensure that all patients receive healthy organs as soon as they become available. All transplant centers in the United States belong to UNOS.

For this system to work, it relies on organ procurement organizations, called OPOs. OPOs match and distribute donated organs, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The OPO in our region is Donor Alliance (DA). DA is responsible for the coordination, retrieval, and distribution of organs in Colorado and Wyoming.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

During the waiting period, you will begin a pulmonary rehabilitation program. A rehabilitation specialist and pulmonologist will design an exercise program to improve your muscle strength and endurance. This will help you to have a more successful recovery after your transplant. Your pulmonologist will keep the transplant surgeon and coordinator informed about changes in your condition.

If you live far away from University of Colorado Hospital, your care may be managed by your primary care doctor. However, it’s important that you see a transplant center pulmonologist on a monthly basis. You will also be given guidelines about diet and exercise.

Drug and alcohol screenings

Every patient on the waiting list may be randomly screened for drugs or alcohol at any time. The screening test may be done using a blood or urine sample. Anyone who tests positive for alcohol or illegal drugs will be removed from the waiting list.

Additionally, we screen for cigarette smoking use. Our program requires you to have quit smoking for at least six months prior to accepting you for evaluation for lung transplantation.

What to expect - lung transplant surgery

After you receive a call to come to the hospital, do not drink or eat anything because your stomach should be empty for surgery. When you arrive, you’ll be admitted to the transplant unit where preparation for surgery begins.

Preparation for Surgery

Upon your arrival, you’ll:

  • Meet with your doctors and surgeons
  • Sign one or more consent forms
  • Have a few routine tests such as chest X-ray, EKG, and blood draw
  • Be given medications important for the success of your transplant

Surgery will not begin until the donor lung(s) arrives at the hospital and is examined by the transplant surgeon and determined to be acceptable. Once the decision to proceed with the surgery has been made, you will be given an anesthetic to put you to sleep during transplantation.

During Surgery

Lung transplant surgery can be divided into four stages:

  • Making the incision
  • Removal of the diseased lung(s)
  • Replacement with the new lung(s)
  • Closing the incision

Single Lung Transplant

An incision is made on the side of your chest that will receive the transplant. Your diseased lung is removed and replaced with the new organ. During the transplant, you will breathe with only one lung.

If you cannot breathe well enough, you may be placed on a cardiopulmonary bypass machine. The bypass machine will take over the work of your lung by putting oxygen into your blood and removing carbon dioxide from your blood.

After the new lung is in place, chest tubes will be placed to remove any extra fluid from the area and your incision is closed. A single lung transplant lasts approximately four hours.

Bilateral (Double) Lung Transplant

An incision is made across your entire chest at the base of your breasts. Each lung is replaced separately. The most diseased lung is removed first and replaced with the new organ. During the first transplant, you will breathe with your other lung.

If you cannot breathe well enough, you may be placed on a cardiopulmonary bypass machine. The bypass machine will take over the work of your lung by putting oxygen into your blood and removing carbon dioxide from your blood.

After first new lung is in place, the same process is used to replace your other disease lung. Cardiopulmonary bypass may be used during the second phase of the transplant to reduce stress on your heart and the new lung. Chest tubes will be placed to remove any extra fluid from the area and your incision closed. A bilateral lung transplant lasts approximately six to eight hours.

What to expect - post-transplant

After surgery, you’ll be taken to a private room in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for recovery. You’ll have a breathing tube that’s hooked up to a respirator to help you breathe and will remain on the respirator from 24 to 48 hours. You’ll be given medication to keep you sleepy and unable to move.

Depending on your condition, your medication will be decreased, and you’ll gradually be able to breathe on your own without the respirator. Once you can breathe on your own, the breathing tube will be removed.

A respiratory therapist will help you do breathing exercises and coughing to get you stronger and prevent pneumonia. Your stay in the ICU will usually last two to three days, but may be longer depending on your condition.

From the ICU, you’ll go to a room in a specialized transplant unit where you’ll begin a closely monitored recovery process. You’ll work with the pulmonary rehabilitation specialist and physical therapist to improve your strength and conditioning.

You and your family will participate in various education sessions with our multidisciplinary team about some of the following topics to prepare you for discharge from the hospital:

  • Medication
  • Diet
  • Exercise program
  • Follow-up care, including clinic visit schedules, home care needs and procedures

Your stay in the specialized transplant unit usually lasts three to 10 days depending on your condition.

Recent news in Lung transplants