(CNN) – You might think that heavy smokers make for bad lung donors. But a new study finds donors who smoked more than a pack of cigarettes a day for more than 20 years were strong candidates for double lung transplant donors.
Authors of the study evaluated 5,900 adult double lung transplants between 2005 and 2011 in the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) database. UNOS is the nation’s organ transplant management system. Heavy smokers made up 13%, or 766 of the double lung transplants studied.
According to Dr. Sharven Taghavi, “Some patients are in a very dire situation. They may not have the time to wait, so they have to use the lungs that are available.”
Researchers found that the patients who received the smokers’ lungs had similar short and medium term survival rates as those who received lungs from people who did not smoke heavily.
Patients who received heavy smokers’ lungs tended to stay in the hospital for a few days longer for recovery. However, over a two-year span, researchers found that lung function and death rates in recipients who had received heavy smoking donor lungs was similar to those who received healthier lungs.
While the results look promising, Tagahvi did say that additional follow-up is needed to see if there is any difference in long-term outcomes.
Currently, there are more than 1,600 people waiting for lung transplants, most of them waiting for a year to two years for a set of lungs.