From the moment we are born, breathing is an instinctive, natural part of our lives. The inability to breathe is a powerful sensation that can impact one’s life dramatically. End-stage lung disease patients carry this burden with them every day. While early-stage lung disease can be managed medically, lung transplantation is the only effective therapy for advanced lung disease and lung failure.
In the UAE and Gulf region, the common causes of end-stage lung disease and lung failure include pulmonary fibrosis, interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension and, in recent years, COVID-19-related lung fibrosis and failure. In advanced disease, medical therapy may not be able to provide adequate care and lung transplantation remains the only feasible option to improve the quality of care and provide longevity.
Dr. Usman Ahmad, Department Chair of Thoracic Surgery and Lung Transplantation at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, explains that unlike abdominal organ transplants (kidney, liver), access to lung transplants is limited.
He says, “While there are fewer lung transplant centres in the world, there continues to be a critical shortage of transplantable donor lungs. As a result, there are thousands of patients waiting and sometimes, unfortunately, dying from the progression of their lung disease while waiting for a transplant.”
He adds, “Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s lung transplant programme is uniquely positioned to serve UAE residents and patients from surrounding countries as well as Asian and European markets. The landscape of organ donation in the UAE has dramatically evolved over the last few years.
“With governmental support, increasing education and awareness and the institution of appropriate laws, we have become an international hub for evaluation and treatment of patients with end-stage lung disease.”
Dr. Usman Ahmad
Just in the last six months, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, a Mubadala Health partner, has evaluated lung transplant patients from various geographies. Patients were evaluated based on the severity of their illness, and when appropriate, lung transplantation was offered. With six double lung transplants performed in the second half of 2022 and two double lung transplant surgeries already conducted in January 2023, the programme is growing rapidly and has become a regional and international referral centre.
Partnerships with the National Programme for Organ Transplantation and the Department of Health — Abu Dhabi (DoH) have been critical in establishing lung transplant services in the UAE. The programme has provided invaluable expertise and resources in enhancing societal awareness regarding donation and transplantation and plays a critical role in ensuring appropriate donor management, logistics support and, most importantly, a transparent and ethically sound process of donation and allocation.
Thanks to its state-of-the-art amenities that deliver world-class service standards and a multidisciplinary approach to care, patients can receive cutting-edge transplant facilities right here, ‘at home’. This forward-thinking approach aligns closely with the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi’s vision to develop a healthcare hub in the region as a sought-after destination locally and internationally for patients seeking easily accessible premium healthcare and services.
Some unique aspects of the lung transplant program at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi include regional partnerships with other countries to enhance access to recipients as well as donors. The multidisciplinary surgical, medical, critical care, pulmonary, pharmacy, immunology and physical rehabilitation teams have worked together to support and transplant some very ill Emirati as well as international patients who had been deemed high risk for a transplant in other countries.
“In dealing with lung failure, sometimes we have to support the patients with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). We have a state-of-the-art respiratory ECMO programme led by Dr. Vivek Kakar, where our physicians can evaluate and place patients on lifesaving therapy at local and regional hospitals if required. If appropriate, these patients can then undergo lung transplant at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi,” says Dr. Ahmad.