Technology & Science

More lung transplants, more survivors

New study shows number of lung transplants in Canada doubled in a decade, with much higher survival rates.

Canadians are far more likely to survive lung transplants now than 20 years ago when the first such operation was performed, says a report released on Wednesday.

The number of lung transplants performed in Canada has doubled in the past 10 years, according to the report by the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI). The report uses data from the Canadian organ replacement register, a national database managed by CIHI.

The first successful human lung transplant took place on Nov. 7, 1983, at Toronto General Hospital. The recipient was Tom Hall, a 58-year-old hardware executive who was dying of pulmonary fibrosis. The surgeon was Dr. Joel Cooper. Hall lived another eight years.

Since then more than 1,300 transplants have been performed, with increasing success rates.

Early transplant patients had a 40 per cent chance of surviving for three years. The three-year survival rate now is 70 per cent. More than half of transplant recipients survive beyond five years.

Lung transplants make up about 7 per cent of all solid organ transplants. At the end of last year, 150 people were waiting for single-lung, double-lung or heart-lung transplants. Last year, 26 people died while on the waiting lists.

In 2002, 141 lung transplants were done in Canada, twice as many as were performed in 1993.

"The large increase ... is due to significant improvements in organ preservation, donor management and surgical technique," said Dr. Shafique Keshavjee, director of the Toronto Lung Transplant Program.

Keshavjee said transplanting lungs is difficult because the organs are complex and easily damaged at all stages of the process. Even in successful transplants, patients face long-term problems such as organ rejection or complications from infection.

Lung transplants are required mainly for diseases such as emphysema, cystic fibrosis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and alpha I antitrypsin deficiency.