Girl who took on transplant rules gets new, adult lungs

June 13, 2013 10:13:14 AM

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PHILADELPHIA -- A 10-year-old girl with cystic fibrosis was recovering from a transplant of adult lungs after a judge's ruling expanded her options for lifesaving surgery. 

 

Sarah Murnaghan underwent a six-hour surgery Wednesday at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, a procedure her aunt said resulted because of the larger list of available organs. 

 

"It was a direct result of the ruling that allowed her to be put on the adult list," Sharon Ruddock said after her niece's surgery was completed successfully. "It was not pediatric lungs. She would have never gotten these lungs otherwise." 

 

She said the donor lungs came through "normal channels" and not through the public appeals the family made in its bid to find a compatible donor. No other details about the donor lungs are known. 

 

The Murnaghan family's quest to qualify their daughter for an organ transplant spurred public debate over how donor organs are allocated. 

 

Her 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. 

 

Sarah's health was fading when U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson in Philadelphia ruled June 5 that Sarah and 11-year-old Javier Acosta of New York City should be eligible for adult lungs. 

 

Critics warned there could be a downside to having judges intervene in the organ transplant system's allocation policy. Lung transplants are difficult procedures and some say child patients tend to have more trouble with them than adults. 

 

During double lung transplants, surgeons must open up the patient's chest. Complications can include rejection of the new lung and infection. 

 

"Her doctors are very pleased with both her progress during the procedure and her prognosis for recovery," the family said in a statement. "The surgeons had no challenges resizing and transplanting the donor lungs -- the surgery went smoothly, and Sarah did extremely well. She is in the process of getting settled in the ICU and now her recovery begins. We expect it will be a long road, but we're not going for easy, we're going for possible." 

 

Ruddock said the family was optimistic about Sarah's recovery. 

 

"If everything goes perfectly, she could be out in a couple of weeks, running down the hall," Ruddock said. "It could take a couple of months, it could take three weeks." 

 

The Murnaghan family noted that Sarah's successful surgery was the result of another family's loss: 

 

"We are elated this day has come, but we also know our good news is another family's tragedy. That family made the decision to give Sarah the gift of life -- and they are the true heroes today."