Heart and Lung Transplantation


When an organ (such as the heart or lung) is transplanted, it means that a cardiothoracic surgeon removes a damaged organ and replaces it with a healthy organ that was donated from a deceased person.

The International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation reports that more than 3,800 patients, including more than 500 children, receive new hearts each year. More than 3,500 lung transplants occur annually.

A patient must undergo careful screening to make sure he or she is healthy enough for an organ transplant.

Heart Transplants

Heart Transplants

Most patients undergoing heart transplantation in the United States have one of two problems—either they have a virus that damages the muscles in the heart (cardiomyopathy), or they have a major heart attack that damages the heart and causes scarring of the heart over time.

A cardiothoracic surgeon who is specially trained in heart transplantation will perform the operation. Dr. Robert SD Higgins provides more information on heart transplantation in the video below. 



Lung Transplants

Lung Transplants

Most patients undergoing lung transplants have conditions that are so severe that other treatments no longer work, and the patient is expected to die from lung disease within 1 to 2 years. Those conditions include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - a disease that gets worse over time and makes it hard to breathe.
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis - a condition that causes lung tissue to become stiff, thick, or scarred.
  • Cystic fibrosis - an inherited disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs. It is the most common reason why children need lung transplants.
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency - an inherited condition in which a protein made in the liver is faulty. The protein is supposed to protect body parts, such as the lungs, from the harmful effects of other proteins. The deficiency can lead to emphysema or cirrhosis. 
  • Pulmonary hypertension - increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries.


Reviewed by: Amy E. Hackmann, MD, and Muhammad Faraz Masood, MD
May 2018