U.Va. Lung Transplant Program Achieves Nation's Highest Patient Survival Rate

Jan. 30, 2007 -- Changes to the medications given to recuperating organ recipients have helped the lung transplant program at the University of Virginia Health System achieve the best one-year patient survival rate in the nation.

Announced this month by the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, the one-year survival rate at UVa was 98.08 percent compared to 87.6 percent nationwide. U.Va.'s results involved 52 first-time lung transplant recipients and were achieved between January 1, 2003 and June 30, 2005.

During that same period, 81.4 percent of U.Va.'s lung transplant recipients reached the three-year survival milestone, far exceeding the 68.3 percent who achieved that milestone nationally.

The latest results came on the heels of recently-published, ten-year retrospective study that showed lung transplant recipients age 60 and older have a major survival advantage at UVa. Co-led by Dr. David R. Jones, surgical director of UVa's Lung Transplant Program, the study appeared in the October 2006 issue of Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

Commenting on U.Va.'s best-in-nation ranking, Dr. Jones said changing the immunosuppressant drugs used in post-surgical care has enhanced patient survival.  "We now use a less toxic medication to prevent our patient's immune system from rejecting the new lung. This drug has less severe side effects," he explained.

Effective teamwork has also made a difference. "UVa operates the busiest transplantation program in the state and performs an average of one lung transplant a week because of the excellent skills and care offered by our team of surgeons, nurses, residents, occupational therapists, and psychologists," noted Dr. Jones. 

Even as other transplant centers across the country are shrinking or closing, UVa's transplant activity is increasing. U.Va. is the only center in its region certified to perform a full range of transplants - heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas. "All of our programs are exceedingly excellent. They are growing and could grow faster, if more people signed up to be organ donors," Dr. Jones observed.

Since lung transplantation was first performed in 1983, it has proven to be a viable therapy for patients with progressive and irreversible end-stage lung disease. Nearly half of UVa's lung transplant patients - 47.7 percent - have emphysema or COPD. This percentage is higher than both regional and national averages. Patients with diopathic pulmonary fibrosis account for 22.7 percent of U.Va.'s lung recipients and those with cystic fibrosis comprise 13.6 percent of the total.

An aggressive donor recruitment effort during the past few years has enabled U.Va. to shorten its lung transplant waiting list to 10 individuals. "We hope our new, number-one ranking will attract more patient referrals and more organ donations. We've got the capability and capacity to help more patients, and we want to do so," Dr. Jones said.