What Is a Lung Donor?

Jennifer Mackin

A lung donor is a person who gives a portion of his or her lung to someone whose lungs are failing and needs new ones to survive. There are two types of donors, a living donor and a cadaver donor. Living lung donation is rare since the recipient of the lungs will need two healthy donors for the transplant. Most lungs transplants happen through people who have consented to be an organ donor upon their death, or cadaver donation.

A chest X-ray can be used to detect lung disease.
A chest X-ray can be used to detect lung disease.

The lungs enable human beings to breathe. When a person has lung disease, his or her ability to take in air is compromised, making breathing difficult. A lung transplant is usually necessary when a patient has reached end-stage lung disease and has no other options available for treatment. The patient will go through testing to see if he or she is a candidate for a transplant. If found to be fit for the procedure, he or she will be placed on a waiting list and the search for a lung donor with the same blood type and body size typically begins.

Waiting for a suitable lung donor may take years.
Waiting for a suitable lung donor may take years.

Cadaver lung donation is the usual way most transplant recipients get their new lungs. Before a person dies, he or she can opt to become a lung donor. Sometimes a family can decide to donate a loved ones organs, if he or she did not make the decision before death. The advantage of a cadaver donation is the recipient can get the transplant through one person. The downsides are that someone must die to provide the new lungs, and the wait for suitable organs can take years.

Lung donations often come from people who consented to be donors after their death.
Lung donations often come from people who consented to be donors after their death.

The other lung donor option is a living donor. The human lungs have five lobes — three lobes in the right lung, two in the left. To have a living donor transplant, the recipient will need two donors, one donor to give the lobes for the right lung and one to donate for the left. Finding two people who are matches can be difficult, which is one reason why living lung donation is rare.

Patients who are in need of a lung transplant may require hospitalization.
Patients who are in need of a lung transplant may require hospitalization.

A person wishing to become a living lung donor must meet certain qualifications. Donors should be over the age of 18 and under 60. They should be non-smokers with no history of excessive smoking, healthy with no family history of lung disease, and mentally capable of making the decision to donate. Rigorous testing is usually done to ensure these qualifications are met.

A person seeking to become a lung donor must meet certain qualifications.
A person seeking to become a lung donor must meet certain qualifications.

The advantage of a living lung donor transplant is the recipient does not have to wait as long as if he or she were on a waiting list, and living donor transplants usually have a higher success rate since the matches are almost always better than a cadaver donation. The drawback is usually the donor’s quality of life is affected. The missing portion of the lung can lower the donor’s oxygen intake, which can make physical activities they did easily before the transplant a little more difficult. The recovery time for a lung donor can also be a long process, with up to nine days in the hospital after the operation and up to three years of post-surgical monitoring by a doctor.

The lungs enable human beings to breathe.
The lungs enable human beings to breathe.
Lung donors can not have a history of excessive smoking.
Lung donors can not have a history of excessive smoking.
An organ recipient and donor must have the same blood type.
An organ recipient and donor must have the same blood type.

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