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10-Year Old Receives Adult Lungs

June 14th, 2013

Sarah Murnaghan, before her operation, getting help with her breathing. Photo from: Save Sarah Murnaghan/Facebook

Brave ten-year old Sarah Murnaghan may have only had a short time left to live when she received the double-lung transplant she needed to save her life.

Her surgery on Wednesday morning in Philadelphia went very well, her family said.

But it almost didn’t happen.

Sarah has cystic fibrosis (CF), which affects the lungs and digestive system. People who have cystic fibrosis are born with it, inheriting it from their parents (it’s not contagious). 30,000 people have cystic fibrosis in the U.S., 70,000 worldwide. There’s a video about CF below.

Sarah needed both of her lungs replaced in order to to live.

In order to get a lung transplant (or other organs including heart, liver, kidney and more), there’s a system in place that keeps track of people who need new organs and matches them with people who are donating one. In many cases organs are donated when a person dies. That often makes it unpredictable to know when organs will become available and there are a lot of people waiting for one.

Sarah Murnaghan’s situation was even more challenging because of a rule that children under 12 years old are supposed to receive lungs from other children donors — which rarely happens. One of the reasons for the rule is that it’s difficult and risky to fit adult-sized lungs into a smaller body.

The Murnaghans wanted Sarah to be on the waiting list for adult lungs. But the rule says adults and children 12 and older are given priority. So the odds of Sarah getting lungs this way was also unlikely.

She had already been waiting for a year-and-a-half and time was quickly running out.

Sarah’s family pleaded that the rules be changed so she could be eligible for adult lungs the same as everyone else. A judge temporarily changed the rules for them. The Murnaghan’s lawyer, Stephen Harvey, said about Sarah’s family after winning the decision, “I can safely say I’ve never been hugged harder and longer in my life.”

Days later a donor for Sarah was found — adult lungs that would be cut to fit her child’s body.  Family members reported the transplant went “flawlessly”.

Even so, it will be a long road to recovery. And it doesn’t cure her cystic fibrosis (there is no cure yet). But it’s a second chance at life for a young girl who has already been through so much.

Do you think the rules should be changed? Another issue people are talking about is that in the U.S. you have to say in advance if you want to be a donor (in case you die). Usually this is done by checking off a box on your driver’s license. Some people say it should be the opposite, that you should be assumed to be a donor unless you say otherwise.  What do you think?

It’s an ongoing debate with new life. In the meantime, 18 people die each day in the U.S. waiting for an organ that could have saved theirs.

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