Rejection is the refusal of your body to recognize your new lungs as its own and the attempt to fight and destroy them. This reaction starts within your immune system, which recognizes things that don't belong in your body. For example, your body identifies a splinter in your finger as a foreign object. The redness and inflammation in the area of the splinter is an immune response.
When a major organ such as the lung is implanted, your body will naturally recognize it as being foreign and will begin an immune response directed at the new lung (rejection). In order to prevent rejection, you must be treated with immunosuppressants, medications that interfere with the body's normal immune response. Taking these drugs as prescribed is critical for preventing the rejection of a new lung.
It is not unusual for a patient to experience one or more episodes of rejection during the first several months after transplant. We counter these occurrences by having you come into the hospital for a few days to receive intravenous doses of anti-rejection medications. Our goal during this time is to find the lowest dose that will prevent rejection and, therefore, minimize the risk of infection and side effects from the medications.
While immunosuppressants help prevent the rejection of your new lung, they also make you more vulnerable to infection. If an infection does occur, we generally treat them with antibiotics for one to two weeks, but sometimes longer. We also ask patients to take certain medications on a regular basis to prevent certain types of infection.
You will need to take anti-rejection medications at least once a day for the rest of your life. Without these medications, your new lung will be rejected and fail. It also is important to keep your appointments with the lung transplant team so we can ensure that you are receiving the appropriate amount of each medication, that rejection is not occurring, and that you are not developing an infection.
Remember that a lung transplant is not a cure, but a treatment for your lung disease.