Can a Living Person Donate a Lung?

healthy lungs

Organ donation has long been one of the most selfless acts someone can provide. Generous donations of blood, plasma, kidneys and other organs have helped people live through medical emergencies and stay healthy for decades following the transplantation. Historically, living donors could also donate a lobe of their lung to people in need. This type of donation is uncommon now. Gift of Life Michigan is here to offer a closer look at the different types of lung transplants possible and how living donors have saved lives by donating a lung lobe in the past.

Two Types of Living Donor Lung Transplants

A lung transplant operation doesn’t always involve donating a whole lung. Instead, living donors can give the lower lobe of their lungs to be transplanted in a patient. There are two main types of lung transplant operations:

  • Single lung transplants: When one lung is more diseased than the other, or a patient has endured significant damage to just one lung, they can undergo a single lobe lung transplant. These were relatively uncommon.
  • Double lobe lung transplants: Double lobe lung transplants are operations in which a patient receives lobes of two lungs from two different living donors at one time. This was most commonly done by two adults each donating a lobe to a child in need.

The Lung Transplants

Patients often require lung transplants due when their own lung or lungs have been damaged from fibrosis, COPD, emphysema, or other severe pulmonary diseases. Living lung lobe donors were, in most cases, family members of those who were in need of the transplant itself.

Humans have five lobes in their lungs: three in the right lung and two in the left.

A donor gave the lower lobe from the needed lung.

A single donor could provide enough lung tissue for a patient to receive a single lobe lung transplant.

Two donors helped patients receive enough lung material for a double lobe lung transplant, with each portion of lung tissue coming from separate donors.

Who Can Donate Their Lungs

Family members of people suffering from COPD, emphysema, and other pulmonary medical conditions were the most likely to become living lung donors. This was in part due to the odds of them being a closer medical match for the recipient of the lung, and as such, allowed some recipients a shorter waiting time for this life-saving procedure. Living lung donation was potentially a more consequential type of organ donation than kidney donation, and close family members were likely to be more motivated to proceed than other potential donors.

In order to qualify as a living lung donor, certain physical and mental health criteria needed to be met. These requirements or ideal criteria include:

  • Having a compatible blood type (ABO compatibility)
  • Must be a non-smoker
  • Have good pulmonary health (lung health)
  • Must be in good general health

These criteria ensured the donated lung was healthy tissue and that the patient’s body was unlikely to reject the lung.

How to Sign Up to be a Donor

Although living lung donations have not happened in the United States for several years, everyone has the potential to be a lung donor at the end of life.

You can register as an organ donor in Michigan in less than five minutes by signing up on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry.

After registering as a donor, please talk to your family about your decision to donate life.

We provide information and resources for living kidney and liver donors, Michigan residents curious about the organ donor process, and people considering organ donation. Sign up in five minutes or less on the Donor Registry today.

Image Source: SewCreamStudio/Shutterstock

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