US girl gets lung transplant after political firestorm (Update)

June 12, 2013 by Kerry Sheridan

A 10-year-old American girl whose dire need for a lung transplant catapulted her into the political spotlight underwent potentially life-saving surgery Wednesday after a donor was found.

"God is great! He moved the mountain! Sarah got THE CALL," wrote Janet Ruddock Murnaghan, the mother of the critically ill child, on her Facebook page.

The Pennsylvania girl, who suffers from cystic fibrosis and was said to be near death's door without a transplant, entered surgery early Wednesday, her mother said. The operation was expected to last several hours.

The case drew international attention when the child's family gave interviews to cable news networks and pleaded with the US government to bend the rules and allow her to be put on the list for an adult lung transplant.

She was at the top of a waiting list for children under 12, but pediatric donor lungs are far rarer than those from adults, and experts had given Sarah only a few weeks to live if doctors did not perform a transplant.

It was unclear whether the donated organs, which arrived late Tuesday, came from an adult or a child.

"Please pray for Sarah's donor, her HERO, who has given her the gift of life. Today their family has experienced a tremendous loss, may God grant them a peace that surpasses understanding," her mother wrote.

"Today is the start of Sarah's new beginning and new life!"

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia declined to share any details about the surgery, citing patient privacy.

Last week, a US judge took the unusual step of ordering that the child should be placed on an adult waiting list, after Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius declined to intervene and the family filed a lawsuit, alleging that current US standards discriminated against children.

A change.org petition by the girl's family and friends appealing for new donor policy regarding children in need of transplants drew more than 372,000 supporters.

The practice of transplanting adult organs into children is relatively rare.

Just one lung transplant has occurred in the United States since 2007 involving a donor older than 18 and a recipient younger than 12, according to government data.

On Monday, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network agreed to revise its policy on transplant candidates 11 and under, which previously stated that children may only be considered for adult lungs if there were no other suitable candidates.

The changes—effective for one year pending further review—allow transplant programs to request higher priority for children and allow for doctors to consider transplanting lungs from teens or adult donors.

"The number of patients potentially affected by this policy is very small and unlikely to have a significant impact on the larger pool of transplant candidates," the OPTN said.

As of June 10, there were 1,659 candidates listed for a lung transplant nationwide, of whom 30 were under age 10.

Murnaghan was diagnosed as an infant with cystic fibrosis, a chronic lung disease that affects about 70,000 people worldwide. The median survival age is the late 30s.

While Murnaghan's case sparked a torrent of media attention, it also raised questions about the ethics of appealing for medical help in such a public way, with some experts fearing it could set a damaging precedent.

"It raised the question, can you sue or use PR (public relations) or otherwise campaign to get to the head of the line?" said Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center.

"In our system in the US, you sometimes can use money to gain an advantage. I don't think that is a startling revelation," he told AFP.

However, he added that the girl's apparent victory of getting a transplant does not guarantee it will be successful, and complications are frequent in such cases.

"I think this little girl got herself into the woods by her parents fighting for her, and that helped. But she is not out of the woods."

Explore further: Transplant group considers lung rule changes

Related Stories

Transplant group considers lung rule changes

June 10, 2013
(AP)—Members of the national organization that manages organ transplants are voicing concern about a federal judge's ruling to make two sick children at a Pennsylvania hospital eligible for adult lungs.

Split liver transplants for young children proven to be as safe as whole organ transplantation

June 10, 2013
A new study shows that when a liver from a deceased adult or adolescent donor is split into two separate portions for transplantation—with the smaller portion going to a young child and the larger to an adult—the smaller ...

More kids getting donor organs, but gaps persist, study finds

May 22, 2013
(HealthDay)—Over the last decade, the number of American children who die each year awaiting an organ donation dropped by more than half, new research reveals. And increasing numbers of children are receiving donor organs.

First 'breathing lung' transplant on East Coast using OCS lung

March 14, 2013
UPMC surgeons have performed a "breathing lung" transplant using a portable machine that provides a constant supply of blood and nutrients to the donor organs, which doctors say has the potential to keep them healthier and ...

Shift in lung allocation score alters transplant survival

May 8, 2013
(HealthDay)—An acute increase in lung allocation score (LAS) before transplantation is associated with worse post-transplant survival, according to a study published in the May 7 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Study finds lungs from heavy smokers OK for transplant

January 29, 2013
(HealthDay)—Lungs of heavy smokers can be donated safely for use in adult double-lung transplants, a new study contends.

Recommended for you

Best of Last Year—The top Medical Xpress articles of 2017

December 20, 2017
It was a good year for medical research as a team at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, found that dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. Any exercise helps, the team found, but dancing ...

Pickled in 'cognac', Chopin's heart gives up its secrets

November 26, 2017
The heart of Frederic Chopin, among the world's most cherished musical virtuosos, may finally have given up the cause of his untimely death.

Sugar industry withheld evidence of sucrose's health effects nearly 50 years ago

November 21, 2017
A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago, researchers argue in a paper publishing on November 21 in the ...

Female researchers pay more attention to sex and gender in medicine

November 7, 2017
When women participate in a medical research paper, that research is more likely to take into account the differences between the way men and women react to diseases and treatments, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

neversaidit
not rated yet Jun 13, 2013
god is great, he gave her CF and she's still going to die before she's 30. not a fucking word about doctors who save her life.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.