Published June 28, 2013
Sarah Murnaghan, the 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl who made headlines as she waited for a life-saving double-lung transplant, actually received two sets of lungs and underwent two operations, according to a new statement from her parents.
Sarah – who had been dying of cystic fibrosis – is now doing well after the surgeries, her parents said. She is able to communicate, and they added she has even sat on the side of the bed and has started exercising her arms and legs.
Janet and Fran Murnaghan announced on June 12 that their daughter’s first lung transplant had been a success, but according to their statement, her health quickly began to deteriorate after the initial operation.
“That evening, as we waited for Sarah to be transitioned back to her room, an emergency code blue was announced,” Sarah’s parents wrote in the statement. “Sarah's vital signs had begun descending rapidly as her new lungs started to fail.”
After the operation, the surgeons at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – where Sarah had received the transplant – had to perform immediate emergency surgery in order to transition Sarah to a veno-arterial (VA) extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which helps provide cardiac and respiratory support to patients.
The doctors told the Murnaghans that Sarah was suffering from a complication called primary graft failure (PGF), one of the leading causes of death in the first 30 days after a transplant procedure. Further analysis of Sarah’s new lungs revealed the PGF was due to the poor quality of the donated organs.
Three days later on June 15, the family was told that new lungs were available for Sarah, but they were considered high-risk, as they had been infected with pneumonia. According to the Murnaghan’s statement, the new lungs were Sarah’s only hope.
“By 1 p.m. that same day, Sarah was wheeled in for her second transplant, performed by the same surgeon who did her first transplant, Dr. Thomas Spray,” the Murnaghans said in the statement. “The second transplant operation was truly a success - she made it through the surgery and no longer needed to be on VA ECMO, but her little body was very traumatized by all she had been through.”
Since the second transplant, the Murnaghans said that Sarah’s lung function has continued to improve, needing less and less support from the ventilator. A week after the transplant, on June 21, Sarah underwent surgery yet again to close up her chest, which had been left open to aid in the healing process.
Prior to Sarah’s operation, the Murnaghans had been in the midst of a prominent legal battle over the established rules for organ donation, after filing a lawsuit to have the guidelines changed to help save their daughter's life. Under the current guidelines for organ donation, children under the age of 12 must wait for pediatric lungs to become available, and adult lungs cannot be offered to children under 12 until they are offered to adults and adolescents first.
The Murnaghans argued the rule keeping Sarah off the list was "discriminatory."
A federal court judge granted a temporary order on June 5 that allowed Sarah to join an adult organ transplant list.