Sarah Murnaghan’s mother has revealed that three days after her daughter had a lung transplant, the operation failed. The girl suffered a complication that affects between 10-25% of lung transplantation patients called primary graft failure. She received a second set of adult lungs, a fact which had not been revealed until today.
Sarah’s parents gained national attention with their fight to allow lung transplantation for their daughter after they found she would be denied adult lungs because of her age. Sarah is ten years old, and until her parents won their court battle, adult lungs were reserved for patients over the age of twelve due to the low rate of success when transplanting adult lungs into a child.
A national outcry arose over what Sarah’s parents called an injustice, and they won the right for Sarah to receive adult lungs through media coverage, petitions which garnered thousands of signatures, and finally, in the courts. Their case brought cystic fibrosis, the disease from which Sarah suffers, into the spotlight.
Their fight has not been without controversy. A leading medical ethicist said that Sarah should not have gotten the adult lungs at all, citing the poor prognosis for children who receive adult organs. Many felt that the lungs should be transplanted into an adult who would have a much better chance of survival.
Dr. Art Caplan, a medical ethicist, wrote a piece for NBC News in which he explained why he doesn’t think adult lungs are appropriate for a child and why the courts should not make important medical decisions.
Washington D.C. is a terrible place to make life and death medical decisions. None of the Congressmen trying to help Sarah know all the facts. Nor does Sebelius. All they see are media stories and press releases from a very desperate family trying to save their dying daughter. The reason kids get lower priority for lungs is that adult lungs rarely fit so you have to use only a part of one. Using only a lobe from an adult cadaver donor negatively impacts the chance of survival. And different medical problems such as cystic fibrosis create different odds for success depending on age.
Other medical ethicists agree. As reported by USA Today, experts feel that medical decisions should be made by physicians, not politicians and judges. Jonathan Moreno, a University of Pennsylvania Ethicist, said “You don’t want judges or members of Congress deciding how to allocate organs. Lung transplants are still the hardest to do especially in children, especially if they have complications from other diseases which they normally do.”
Many disagree with these experts’ assessments, and Sarah has now undergone two lung transplants. The second set of lungs was previously infected with pneumonia, but her parents decided it was worth it to take the risk since they had, they say, run out of options. “They were Sarah’s best and only hope” they said.
Currently, Sarah is facing a complication the parents call “a minor setback” from the failure of the first lung transplant- A paralyzed diaphragm that is interfering with Sarah’s breathing tube. They are still optimistic about her recovery and the girl will undergo an operation to correct the problem.
By: Rebecca Savastio
Source: NBC News
Source: USA Today