The 10-year-old girl whose efforts to qualify for an organ donation spurred public debate over how organs are allocated has had a successful double-lung transplant.
A family spokeswoman said Sarah, who suffered from cystic fibrosis, received the new lungs from an adult donor at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“We are thrilled to share that Sarah is out of surgery,” said her family in a statement released Wednesday shortly after 8 p.m. “Her doctors are very pleased with both her progress during the procedure and her prognosis for recovery.”
Before the surgery began, Sarah’s mother, Janet, said the family was “overwhelmed with emotions” and thanked all her supporters. “Today is the start of Sarah’s new beginning and new life.”
Following the six-hour operation, Sarah “was in the process of getting settled in the ICU, and now her recovery begins,” the familiy statement continued. “We expect it will be a long road, but we’re not going for easy, we’re going for possible. And an organ donor has made this possible for her.”
The family launched a highly public and successful battle to change a rule that prevented Sarah from receiving an adult lung. Pediatric donor organs are very rare and wait times are long.
The family’s quest and eventual intervention by a federal judge on behalf of Sarah and another child waiting for a lung have sparked a national debate over how organs are allocated. A court hearing is scheduled for Friday.
Experts say Sarah should regain normal lung function after she heals from the surgery, being able to take deep breaths and breathe without the help of a ventilator.
The case could bring changes for other children, as another cystic fibrosis patient at the same hospital has also gone to court to be added to the adult donor list. The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network says 31 children under 11 are on the waiting list for a lung transplant.
It was not immediately clear where Sarah’s donation came from. A message was left for a hospital representative. Janet Murnaghan said the donor’s family “has experienced a tremendous loss, may God grant them a peace that surpasses understanding.”
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. Outcomes from transplant patients are mixed. About 50 percent are still alive five years after the surgery. In many cases, the body slowly rejects the organ over the course of several years, and infections are another major challenge.
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.