PHILADELPHIA — A 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl who underwent a double-lung transplant amid a national debate over the organ-allocation process received a second set of lungs after the first failed, and has taken some breaths on her own, the girl’s parents said Friday.
The first set of lungs failed within hours of the June 12 transplant at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Sarah Murnaghan was placed on machines, according to her mother. She was placed back on the lung-transplant list the night after her surgery and received a second set of lungs June 15.
“We were told … that she was going to die,” Janet Murnaghan said at a news conference Friday as she explained why Sarah’s second transplant was not publicly disclosed. “We weren’t prepared to live out her dying in public.”
The suburban Philadelphia girl initially received lungs from an adult donor after her parents sued over national rules that place children behind adolescents and adults on the priority list for adult lungs — even if the children are sicker and are capable of accepting adult organs.
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The Murnaghans and the family of Javier Acosta, 11, of New York City, challenged the policy making children younger than 12 wait for pediatric lungs to become available or be offered adult lungs only after adolescents and adults on the waiting list had been considered. Both children have end-stage cystic fibrosis.
A federal judge ruled they should be eligible for adult lungs after U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declined to intervene.
Janet Murnaghan said Sarah’s condition began to “spiral out of control” shortly after the first surgery. A second set of lungs was found and transplanted even though the donor once had pneumonia, making the surgery extra risky. The second set was also from an adult donor.
Sarah’s mother said the second transplant was a success and her daughter had been able to take a few breaths on her own.
The failure of the first transplant is not uncommon. A 2005 University of Pennsylvania study found nearly 12 percent of lung transplants experienced what’s called primary graft failure, where the organ almost immediately begins to fail.
But the timing — she received a second set of lungs just three days after her first — was unusual.
Of 5,081 lung transplants performed between 2010 and 2012, there were seven retransplants within a week of the initial operation, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the private nonprofit group contracted by the government to manage the transplant list.
Of the 1,663 people currently seeking a lung transplant in the U.S., 12 are between the ages of 6 and 10.
Sarah has been placed back on a ventilator due to partial paralysis of her diaphragm, her mother said. Sarah is slated for surgery Monday in an effort to repair her diaphragm. “There’s still a lot in front of us,” Murnaghan said, but added: “Sarah’s a fighter. She’s always been a fighter.”