Before I begin, let me preface this post by saying that I haven’t made up my mind as to whether I would even want lung transplant surgery, should it ever get to that point. I wanted however, to see what some of my Pulmonologists views were on this subject, and to get a feel for what kind of support I would have in whatever treatment option I pursued.
So last week I got together with 3 of my UCSF Pulmonologists to discuss my SARP evaluation and Dr Wenzel’s recommendation that I consider lung transplant surgery in the future. I began the conversation by bringing up all the wonderful things that the SARP study was accomplishing, which seemed to put a smile on a everyone’s face. But, the minute I mentioned the “T” word, you could sense the tension in the air. You might even say, that tempers were starting to flare…including mine.
No Way! … are you even close to being a candidate for lung transplant surgery, was their general response. After all, you can walk marathons!(yeah…like I didn’t see that one coming)
Even if my FEV1s were to totally bottom out and I was at the point where I was needing supplemental oxygen 24 hours a day, if I were still able to walk ….even just a 10K, I would not be eligible for new lungs. It just wouldn’t look right.
They went on to reassure me however, that even though I have extremely severe asthma, that my PFTs have been relatively stable over the past 4 years and that there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that people with severe disease plateau at a certain level and then suddenly experience a rapid deterioration . (I’m not an MD or a scientist, but I don’t totally agree with that last statement.)
Beyond whether or not I would meet the actual criteria for acceptance into a transplant program, I think their main concern, was that I somehow didn’t understand all the implications of having this life-altering , can’t- undo-it , type of procedure done . In their view , I would just be exchanging one set of problems for another. Though they agree that I would probably be breathing a lot easier after transplantation, there’s also a good chance that my life would be cut short. This is why they prefer you to be on deaths door before considering such radical treatment. Tissue rejection is still a huge problem in lung transplant recipients, as they haven’t quite figured a way to administer just the right amount of medication to prevent rejection, without killing the patient in the process.
They claim, that while there are a few miracle stories out there of people thriving and living long lives after receiving new lungs, the fact is, the vast majority of lung transplant recipients are not so lucky. The survival rate is still very dismal and pretty much a crap shoot. Only 2 out of 5 people will survive 5 years after transplant, and many of the people who do survive, are plagued with frequent life threatening infections due to weakened immune systems. You have to be on potent anti-rejection drugs for the rest of your life and will need constant medical monitoring. I’m not sure I like the idea of having to be around hospitals, anymore often than I am now.
OK, so I see their point about this being an option of last resort, and I appreciate all the concern . I don’t agree with all of it, but I understand it. I think the real reason I got the response I got, is because I have asthma as a diagnosis. There have only been a few asthmatics that have ever been transplanted. The fact that I don’t require supplemental oxygen ( yet) is a huge factor too. In every other way, my lungs are trashed, but Im able to oxygenate.
I guess I should be relieved that I’m not considered sick enough to warrant transplant surgery, but at the same time, when one of the most respected asthma doctors in the world tells you that you should seriously consider it, I think it’s worth learning as much as you can about it , so that you’re better prepared if the time should come. And while my current feeling is that I wouldn’t want the surgery done, who knows how I’ll feel about it a year from now, or if I get to the point where I’m struggling for every breath.
That bit about “being able to walk marathons” really got me to thinking about just how misunderstood I am and how misinformed people can be. It felt as those they were using my incredible physical fitness achievements against me. For some reason there’s this crazy notion, even among lung doctors, that people with severe lung disease are supposed to fit a certain mold.
My response to that would be… why would I even want to.
They agreed that we should revisit this issue again in 6 months. Maybe things will be different then.