About a month ago a relative of mine underwent a double lung transplant! She’s still in the hospital and recovering slowly but surely.
Stopping to think of the magnitude of her surgery seems pretty surreal sometimes. What is also pretty impressive is the range of professionals that have worked with her before, during and now, after the transplant surgery. A lot of different skills, and expertise, and people contribute to the patient-centered care of a person who undergoes major surgery.
Here are just some of the clinicians and support staff I’ve heard about or observed that have worked with my family member:
Each person waiting for a lung transplant is assigned to a registered nurse who fills the role of transplant coordinator. They are like the medical and organizational liaison, coordinating such things as appointments and updates between patients and hospital staff.
In the United States, there were 29,532 organ transplants performed in the United States in 2014; of these, 1,925 were lung transplants; at 17,106, kidney transplants were the most common.
Source: United Network for Organ Sharing https://www.unos.org/data/transplant-trends/#transplants_by_organ_type+year+2014
Some of the essential specialists my loved one has encountered include respirologists, cardiologists, neurologists (to evaluate some motor-skill related symptoms she exhibited), interventional radiologists, attending physicians and their students who sometimes work around the clock in the ICU, and of course surgeons (who perform the lung transplants which can take up to 12 or more hours). Many of these positions also have assistants, such as surgical technologists.
I met a woman whose husband had a lung transplant and she called all of the nurses that took care of him “angels.” It’s a fitting descriptor as they take care of all of the patient’s needs from repositioning them in bed so they don’t get bed sores and monitoring all sorts of vitals to administering a plethora of medications, maintaining the patient’s hygiene and presenting reports to the healthcare team during rounds. In the ICU, where transplant patients go straight out of the OR, each nurse is only assigned one patient because there is so much for them to do during the initial week(s) of recovery.
Physiotherapists and Physiotherapy Assistants:
My loved one started going to physiotherapy before the lung transplant where she exercised using hand and leg bikes and weights to stay as strong as possible. These sessions were run by physiotherapists and physiotherapy assistants. These same type of professionals start working with patients post transplant as soon as they come out of sedation (in the case of my loved one , three-four days after the surgery). Physiotherapists and assistants help lung transplant patients with coughing, sitting up, standing and eventually walking.
Respiratory therapists visit lung transplant patients on a regular basis. They essentially facilitate and monitor the patient’s transition from breathing tube and ventilator to breathing on their own. In some cases the patient may have to temporarily use a tracheostomy tube as well, which would also fall under the purview of an RT.
Medical Imaging Technologists:
Just in the last four weeks my relative has had almost daily X-rays, at least one CT scan, an ultrasound and multiple echocardiograms performed by radiologic technologists, an ultrasound tech and cardiovascular technologists.
AND Many More:
A number of other professionals have worked directly or indirectly to the benefit of my loved one, including dieticians, pharmacists, a spiritual care professional, social worker, a speech language pathologist, patient support staff (like those who help transport and reposition patients), housekeeping staff, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some essential roles.
The sheer number of individuals each performing their particular responsibilities for the good of each lung transplant patient is truly inspiring.
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