PHILADELPHIA » A 10-year-old girl whose efforts to qualify for an organ donation drew public debate over how organs are allocated was getting a lung transplant today, her family said.
Sarah Murnaghan, who suffers from severe cystic fibrosis, was receiving her new lungs today at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a family spokeswoman said.
Her health was deteriorating when a federal judge intervened last week, giving her a chance at the much larger list of organs from adult donors.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the girl was getting lungs from an adult or child donor. A hospital spokeswoman, Dana Mortensen, said she had no information to release and would not confirm if Murnaghan was getting a transplant.
Murnaghan’s mother, Janet, said in a Facebook post that the family was "overwhelmed with emotions" and thanked all her supporters.
"Today is the start of Sarah’s new beginning and new life!" she wrote, adding that the donor’s family "has experienced a tremendous loss, may God grant them a peace that surpasses understanding."
A double lung transplant can take six to 12 hours, and Murnaghan’s surgery began around noon today. Surgeons must open up the patient’s chest, and complications can include rejection of the new lung and infection.
Murnaghan’s family and the family of another cystic fibrosis patient at the same hospital challenged existing transplant policy that made children under 12 wait for pediatric lungs to become available or be offered lungs donated by adults only after adolescents and adults on the waiting list had been considered. They said pediatric lungs are rarely donated.
On June 5, federal Judge Michael Baylson in Philadelphia ruled that Murnaghan of Newtown Square, Pa., and 11-year-old Javier Acosta of New York City should be eligible for adult lungs.
The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network says 31 children under age 11 are on the waiting list for a lung transplant.
The network added Murnaghan to the adult waiting list after Baylson’s ruling. Her transplant comes just two days before a hearing was scheduled on the family’s request for a broader injunction.
Critics warn there could be a downside to having judges intervene in the organ transplant system’s established procedures. Lung transplants are difficult procedures and some say child patients tend to have more trouble with them than adults.
The national organization that manages organ transplants this week resisted making emergency rule changes for children under 12 who are waiting on lungs but created a special appeal and review system to hear such cases.