Traveling by Air Again Following Lung Transplantation

Traveling by Air Again Following Lung Transplantation

Several months after my lung transplant in 2015, my transplant team OK’d me to travel by air. My wife and I were in the doctor’s office and gave each other a grin. We knew then that we could go back to our special place: Maui.

After careful consideration, we decided not to travel to Maui in the summer of 2016. Although we had the doctor’s permission, we didn’t think it was in my best interest to travel to such a faraway destination so soon after my transplant. The flight from Cleveland, Ohio, where we live, was over 10 hours, and I had a leg issue that has since been resolved. Instead, we took a long road trip to Kansas and Nashville, Tennessee — this time without being bound to an oxygen tank.

We started going to Maui in 2009, for our honeymoon. On that trip, we also visited the island of Oahu and Pearl Harbor. We had gone every year since, except during the summers of 2013 and 2015. In 2015, I was dependent on supplemental oxygen. Hawaii is a land of paradise. After several visits to Maui and doing all the sightseeing, we came to view Maui as if we lived there for the several weeks that we visited.

My wife and I decided that in the summer of 2017, we would resume our annual vacation to paradise. We always stay in the same condo complex in Honokowai, so when I called, the manager sounded pleased to hear my voice. She had heard about my medical situation and was happy we were making arrangements to return. The condo complex is a beautiful property situated on the turquoise waters of the Pacific. From our lānai to the sea wall was only 16 steps. What a wonderful view to wake up to every day. The nightly sunsets also are spectacular.

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air travel, Hawaii
(Photo by Mark Koziol)

One of our favorite activities in Maui is snorkeling. There are many places to snorkel, but we loved the ability to walk down to the beach and snorkel in front of the condo property. An abundance of colorful fish, turtles, and coral can be viewed. The idea of snorkeling intimidated me, so I bought a snorkeling face mask. The reviews I read were positive, and I thought breathing in the full mask would alleviate my anxiety toward snorkeling. I practiced in a friend’s pool with my regular snorkeling equipment and the face mask. The face mask gave me some problems, but my regular equipment was like before. I didn’t feel any anxiety when I was underwater, and I was able to breathe comfortably.

As our trip approached, a little anxiety began to set in due to the flight and the medicine I had to bring. I didn’t know what to expect while in-flight regarding my oxygen saturation. I had done some research about people who had received single transplants and had flown. The results were all over the board: Some suffered a drastic decrease in saturation, while others didn’t have a problem.

I also was worried about getting through Transportation Security Administration checks with my medicine. My doctor gave me a letter detailing my condition and the medicines I was required to take. I experienced a 10-point desaturation when I stood up while in flight, but otherwise, I did well. When I was sitting, my saturation was at a normal level. I didn’t have any problems getting through TSA with my medications, either.

When we landed in Maui, I felt I had just achieved a milestone. Before my transplant, my wife and I had talked about the last time we went to Maui. We hoped it wasn’t my last trip, and we made going back to Maui a goal of ours. It was such a happy feeling when we landed and the doors opened, and we could smell the sweet ocean breeze. There is no other smell like it.

We immediately resumed our normal routine in Maui, but on this trip, we invited another couple to stay with us. We enjoyed having them for a week and were sad to see them go. I snorkeled without any complications, but I was very conscientious of the sun’s rays. I protected myself unlike during previous visits.

We hope to go back to paradise next year. This summer, we will travel to Europe, where I am sure there will be hurdles to get past.

Have you flown post-transplant? Please share your experiences in the comments below. How long did you wait after transplant before you resumed air travel?


Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.

Mark is a survivor of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and had a single-lung transplant at Cleveland Clinic. He is a former educator and now shares his transplant journey with the readers of Pulmonary Fibrosis News. Mark resides in Cleveland, Ohio, and is an avid sports fan supporting the professional teams in Cleveland. Mark has not let his diagnosis curb his enthusiasm for life.
Mark is a survivor of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and had a single-lung transplant at Cleveland Clinic. He is a former educator and now shares his transplant journey with the readers of Pulmonary Fibrosis News. Mark resides in Cleveland, Ohio, and is an avid sports fan supporting the professional teams in Cleveland. Mark has not let his diagnosis curb his enthusiasm for life.
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  1. Bob O'Brien says:

    Mark, I am on Cape Cod and an IPF sufferer. I am a patient of an MD from BI Deaconess in Boston but have been tested and evaluated by the transplant team at Mass General in Boston. I have passed all the required testing but they consider me too stable at this time for listing👍🙂. They tell me I am a very healthy who has, unfortuneatly, a lousy set of lungs. I too love Maui and my wife and I will go back (There are now non-stop flights from Logan to Maui). I say this because if I continue to stay “healthy” in all the other areas, I will eventually wind up with a 2X transplant.
    Thanks for your update.

    • Mark Koziol says:

      Hello Bob, thank you for reading and commenting on the column. I’m happy you can identify with the column. Let’s hope you can avoid a transplant and you stay healthy. You are very lucky to get a non stop from Boston. We usually stop in San Fran or LA. It is too bad you have those lousy set of lungs. Bob I was in the same situation you were, healthy with lousy set of lungs. I think this has helped me in my recovery. Bob keep active, do as much as you can and take one day at a time. Keep in contact Bob and best wishes!

  2. Jewel says:

    My husband and I were married in Maui almost 31 yrs ago. We planned to go back for our 30th last fall but my husband unexpectedly had a double bypass surgery last Aug.
    He is approved for a single transplant but not yet listed. We hope to be back in Hawaii in the future. Your story is inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

    • Mark Koziol says:

      Hello Jewel, thank you for sharing. Thank you also for reading and commenting on my column. I hope you make it there soon and I’m sorry what your husband is going through. Now it’s time for you and your husband to add another chapter to your story. Best wishes.

  3. Anita Clos says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I too am post-transplant (3 years) and have traveled to Europe twice and Arizona since then. It was indeed a wonderful feeling to not take O2 along for the ride. We just took a quick trip to New Orleans (from Mich) and I had zero problems. The other, longer routes I learned to wear compression knee socks after the first long trip resulted in swollen feet and calves. Now no probs at all. Life is good. Great, in fact.

    • Mark Koziol says:

      Hello Anita, thank you for reading and commenting on my column. Yes, it is wonderful to not have to lug oxygen tanks along wherever you go. Your story makes me feel happy, I love it when transplant patients are enjoying life. Keep traveling. Keep living. Keep enjoying life. My wife and are going to Europe this summer. I haven’t had to wear the socks, they have been mentioned but I may look into them because it is a long time on the plan. I haven’t had any problems but I guess I should prepare myself. Thank you Mark

  4. John Roberge says:

    We love the land of paradise Maui and Oahu, but since my wife’s bi-lateral transplant in Mar 2019 are worried such a long trip from Boston will not be recommended by her lung transplant team. Did you research what medical facilities could handle your needs prior to departing? We also do layovers in SF and LAX and SAN on both outbound and return flights. I’m guessing a minimum of a year before that kind of travel will be approved, maybe longer. Great article, encouraging!

    • Mark Koziol says:

      Hello John, it is nice to hear from you. Thank you for reading and commenting on my column. I am happy your wife received the gift of life. I was given permission to fly 3 months after my transplant. I reside in Cleveland, Ohio and we usually stop in LAX or SFO as well. Usually just a short layover. Most hospitals will be able to handle your needs especially because they will probably be taking orders from your transplant team. We are leaving for 3 week European vacation next Monday. I just had my doctor appt last Thursday and I am good to go. My doctor told if there any problems to contact the team immediately. She stated there are plans in place and they have contacts all over the world. I am sure your transplant center operates in the same manner. We didn’t go to Hawaii the first summer but did go to Houston. I try and get the first seats behind first class when I fly. It usually by the door, this way I can stand and walk around when needed. There is usually 6-8 feet of open space on the bigger jets. Thank you again and keep in contact. Mark

  5. Gisele F Lapointe says:

    Thank you for sharing your stories, very uplifting. So happy for all of you.
    I have been diagnosed with IPF 6 years ago and I am doing just fine, keeping healthy and busy… so far.

    • Mark Koziol says:

      Hello Gisele, as a matter of fact I have just returned from a 3 week trip to Europe. My wife and I visited Poland, Italy, Greece, and Vienna. Thank you for reading and commenting. Please keep as active as possibLE. It is nice to hear when person is doing well with this disease. Mark

  6. Kiki says:

    Thanks for that encouraging insight. I have NSIP, which falls under Pulmonary Fibrosis. Therefore I am pre-transplant and lined up for a double lung transplant sometime down the road.
    I have a heart to travel, so getting this disease really put a kink in that. I was told that I cannot travel to places like India or Africa, pretty much anywhere overseas, because they do not want me going far from the hospital. Has anyone been able to safely travel to these areas or did y’all aim to go to more ‘sanitary’ places?

    • Mark Koziol says:

      Hello Kiki, thank you for reading my column. I appreciate you taking the time to comment. When I was listed for transplant I was allowed to go 1000 nautical miles away from the transplant center; this was stipulation of the transplant center. My insurance would of paid for one medical air transport. You can also remove yourself from the list until you come back if you chose to take a trip longer than the 1000 miles. After transplant your immune system will be suppressed and you will have to watch some of the things you do. There are precautions you can take. This summer we went to 4 countries in Europe. I didn’t encounter any problems. Your transplant doctor will usually give you the ok to travel to places you have stated. I wish you safe travels, Mark.

  7. Angela says:

    Hi there- in your post you mentioned you did research about transplant patients saturation dropping while in flight- would you mind sharing with me? I am planning to take my mom to Maui next year- she’s never been on a real vacation, let alone Hawaii! She had a dbl lung transplant 7/25/19, and I’m hoping to learn as much as I can to mitigate any potential risks. Thanks for your help!

    • Mark Koziol says:

      Hello Angela, my research consisted of speaking with patients who have had a single or double transplant. I found that most single lung transplant patients would drop around 91-93. The double lung patients seemed to fare much better as they would drop to 95ish. I drop to 92 while just sitting but upon movement I will go to 88 while in the air. It doesn’t bother me as I am not doing this for an extended period of time. It will be good to have your mom stand up a couple of times an hour if she is able to. We always try and get the seats right by the entrance door so we have about 6-10 feet in front of us and I don’t have to bother anyone by climbing over them. If she is in good physical shape and is still walking I wouldn’t anticipate any problems. Notify your transplant team of your plans and make sure she has more than an enough supply of her medication. The medication will not be a problem either. I have flown many times since in the US and Europe and never was even asked about the medication I carried. Have fun and who knows we might across each other in Maui as we would like to go this upcoming summer since we had to cancel last year. Have fun and Aloha! Thank you for reading and commenting. Mark

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