Dying Girl Who Sparked Transplant Policy Change Gets Lung

Sarah Murnaghan, the 10-year-old whose critical need for new lungs led to a temporary change in U.S. transplant rules, today received a double-lung transplant.

The Pennsylvania girl, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, was recovering last night after surgery that lasted about six hours at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Tracy Simon, a spokeswoman for the Murnaghan family, said in an e-mail. The youngster had been on the transplant waiting list since December 2011 and may have had only a few weeks to live without an organ donation.

“We are thrilled to share that Sarah is out of surgery,” her family said in the e-mail from Simon. “Her doctors are very pleased with both her progress during the procedure and her prognosis for recovery.”

The Murnaghan family sued U.S. officials after Sarah was denied an exemption to transplant rules that bar children younger than 12 years old from receiving adult lungs until all adults in need are given a chance to accept them. The girl’s plight sparked calls by lawmakers to review the organ donor policies and she won a temporary court order last week making her eligible for a lung from an adult.

“The surgeons had no challenges resizing and transplanting the donor lungs -- the surgery went smoothly and Sarah did extremely well,” the Murnaghan family said, adding that she had been moved to the hospital’s intensive care unit “and now her recovery begins.”

Policy Change

The executive committee of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network voted at an emergency meeting this week to create an interim classification for child lung candidates with exceptional cases. The rule will be effective until July 1, 2014, giving time to find a permanent solution to the under-12 policy.

The network, created by Congress, operates as an independent nonprofit group under federal contract to manage transplant procedures, prioritizing patients by medical need.

The new policy allows children with exceptional cases access to adult lungs based on an allocation score used to prioritize adult lung transplants. Children younger than 12 aren’t typically assigned a score, only placed in one of two categories, which can keep them from receiving adult lungs.

Almost 1,700 people nationwide await a life-saving lung transplant, including 30 children ages 10 or younger, the OPTN said in a May 27 statement. In 2012 there were 11 lung donors from the ages of 6 to 10, the network said.