NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 25, 2006

A quiet revolution in the world of lung transplants is saving the lives of people who, just two years ago, would have died on the waiting list.  In the past 16 months, waits have shortened, lists have shrunk, and the number of lung transplants has gone up.  Further improvements are expected this year, says the New York Times.

Starting in May 2005, new rules nationwide put patients who needed transplants most at the top of the list -- people who would soon die without a transplant, but who had a good chance of surviving after one.

  • Previously, lungs went to whoever had been waiting longest, even if another patient needed them more.
  • The waiting time was often two years or more, so there was little hope for people with lung diseases that came on suddenly or progressed rapidly.

Another major change is that more lungs from cadavers have become available:

  • More people are becoming organ donors and doctors have figured out ways to salvage lungs that previously would have been considered unusable.
  • The new methods use drugs, respirator settings and other techniques to prevent damage to the lungs and keep their tiny air sacs open in brain-dead patients.

"Good organs 5 or 10 years ago were probably being buried" because doctors did not know how to save them, said Dr. Kenneth R. McCurry, director of heart and lung transplantation at the University of Pittsburgh.

The number of lung transplants has risen to 1,405 in 2005, 248 more than the year before. Fewer people are dying on the waiting list: 360 in 2005, down from 488 in 2004.

Source: Denise Grady, "Lung Patients See a New Era of Transplants," New York Times, September 24, 2006.

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