Dying 10-Year-Old Can't Get Life-Saving Lung Transplant Because She's Just a Kid

Sarah Murnaghan dying cystic fibrosisThere are so many good reasons to become an organ donor in America I wouldn't know where to start the list. And yet the story of little Sarah Murnaghan, a 10-year-old who is dying in a hospital in Philadelphia, gives me pause. Cystic fibrosis, a condition she was born with, has done a number on her lungs. She's been waiting for a lung transplant for a year and a half, but she hasn't gotten one for one simple reason: adults are being offered the lungs instead.

Some of these adults are healthier than Sarah. But it doesn't matter. Rules are rules.

Are you an organ donor? Did you know these were the rules?

According to a petition started by a family friend on Change.org to change the rules, currently the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) and United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) will only give a child first dibs on adult lungs if they're 12 years old or older. Because Sarah is 10, she has to wait in line behind adults on the list, regardless of the severity of their condition. If they all say no, then and only then could her doctors transplant the lungs into the child's body.

Now what are the chances that an adult on a lung transplant list is going to say, eh, nah, I'll pass on these lungs?

This is why a 10-year-old girl has waited for 18 months on the lung transplant list. This is why a 10-year-old girl is weeks from death. She keeps getting denied -- in favor of adults.

Sure, she could have pediatric lungs, but the chances of getting lungs from another child is even slimmer than getting a set of healthy adult lungs.

This is the truth of organ donation in America. The family's claims have been validated by doctors involved in the OPTN/UNOS process. It isn't all neat and clean.

Sometimes a person who is on the verge of death will get a life-saving transplant. Sometimes a person who isn't nearly as bad off will get the organ.

As an American who hopes to be an organ donor after death (and who is already signed on to the bone marrow registry to be a living donor should my DNA match with someone in need), I would never before have thought of a reason NOT to be a donor. Saving lives is saving lives. Who doesn't want to save lives?

Still, stories like Sarah Murnaghan's give me pause. Once you're dead, neither you nor your family have any control over where your organs end up. There's no way to say, "Hey, save a sick kid first."

I know what I'd want. I'd want my lungs to go to the little girl who has suffered for her whole life with cystic fibrosis, who deserves a chance at a real childhood, at a real life. Who wouldn't want that? Imagine putting two candidates in front of a dying woman and asking her to choose: adult who can hang on for a few more months or child who has two weeks left. Who wouldn't choose the child?

Severity of the case, then age ... with kids coming first.

From an ethical standpoint, I understand why you don't have a choice. Can you imagine the issue of bias alone? And yet, there's a part of me that is horrified at the thought that someone else gets to make a choice with a bit of my body, that someone else could bypass that child who I'd so like to save.

Sarah Murnaghan's family is working to change the rules so little kids like her won't have to go up against adults for a chance at life. I hope it works; it could comfort a lot of would-be donors to know that their deaths could benefit kids across America.

I just wish it didn't take a little girl dying to remind people to put kids first.

Are you an organ donor? Would you be want your organs to go to a kid over an adult or do you care?


Image via Change.org

kid health


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fleur... fleurdelys3110

I must disagree with you on your point that children should always come first. For arguments sake, let's say my mother is awaiting a lung transplant and so is a child that I don't know. Why would I voluntarily want to put some random child ahead of my mother? Bias will always be tilted toward your own family, friends, age group, or whomever. This is why people should not be able to choose who their organs go to. However, I absolutely agree with you that it is ludicrous that this girl is being denied lung priority because she is only 10. That is not right. Patients should receive organs in the order they are entered onto the waiting list in the database, and exceptions should only be made if someone very suddenly takes a turn of the worst and is on the verge of death. Age should have absolutely nothing to do with this.

miche... micheledo

I am not a doctor, but I imagine there are several problems withthis. For one, an adult lung is bigger. Though a height limit would maybe make more sense to me, rather then just age. Two, and adult lung probably has more wear ajd tear on it then a child's lung. I would imagine a very young child receiving an 'old' lung would probably guarantee the need tfor a second transplant down the road.

This article doesn't seem very thorough. The rules aren't randomly made. This rule must exist for a reason - or at least did exist for a reason at some point.

Obviously the adult doesn't get priority if it is a child's lung! Sounds more like they are trying to match as best as they can. Besides, suppose she got an adult match and because she was bumped up, it was a poor match and failed? Now she still needs a lung and an adult, who would have been a better match, is still without a lung?

Lisa Baker

It should be done by severity of the case. 

Katy Shaw

Speaking as the daughter of a transplant recipient, there's a lot of information missing from this article. A lot of factors go into who gets what organ. You can't just transplant the first available organ into the first person on the list. The list doesn't discriminate based on how sick someone is. First on, first in. My father was extremely sick, he was still behind others who were healthier. That's how it works. You turn down an organ, you can get bumped to the end of the line. The truth of it is the lungs of a 6 foot 4 linebacker aren't going to work efficiently in a ten year old girl whose growth has probably been stunted by CF.

The average wait for a lung transplant more is 18-20 months. That means some people wait les, some wait longer. 

keelh... keelhaulrose

A lung transplant has many different considerations, among them blood type, how sick the patient is, and the size of the patient when it comes to the lung (chest size). A lung cannot be too large or too small for the recipient, or it will not work properly. That's why adult lungs usually go to larger teens and adults.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't cystic fibrosis stunt growth in some people? This little girl might not have the chest capacity for an adult lung. Yes, it's horrible she can't get one, but the truth might be that she can only recieve a lung from a patient about her size, and that might be a very, very small adult, or a child.

bills... billsfan1104

Sometimes social media can e curse or a God send. These parents should know what goes into getting a transplant. I understated their desperation, but they could kill their daughter, that's why the doctors are telling them this.

Kirsten Michels

This is a dangerous article. The person receiving the organs are usually the person who is the best match, not necessarily who is the sickest. If the sickest person is the wrong blood type, or the organs are too big or small, they won't get the organs. This child isn't receiving the lungs because they are from an adult and therefore won't fit. There's a lot more to organ donation than just who is the sickest, it comes down to who is the best recipient with the least just of rejection, and will have the best possible outcome.

Maureen A. Eggert

I'd like to know WHY the adults of equal or less severity get the lung first; I'm assuming that there is a medical reason. And NO, I would not automatically give the lung to a child. I agree with severity of case but WHY first to a child? Who has the best chance for success from the operations? Under your emotional evaluation a 10 year old would come ahead of a 35 year old who is the sole support of his/her spouse and 2 children or of a single person who is the caregiver for his/her elderly parent. I'm not sure just how the decisions are made but I'm betting that they are more rational than your hormonal reaction.

Freela Freela

There are a lot of factors that go into who is given a donated organ, physical suitability of the organ to the patient being one of them. A likely consideration in terms of donations of adult organs to children is the size of the child's chest cavity. It's not as though doctors can just cram lungs in and make them fit. Organ transplants are not a one-size-fits-all quick fix and doctors are not big kid-hating meanies... trying to implant a poorly-suited organ into a patient will kill them even more quickly than the disease will.

LadyM... LadyMinni

No! Jeanne, I usually agree with you on a lot of things but in this you are wrong. She is too small for adult sized lungs. They can be cut down a little (very little) which is why 12 year olds can get them. They can usually be made to fit the average 12 year old.

I honestly don't agree at all that kids should be bumped to the front of the list at 12. How is that fair? You want to know what is really disgusting? Criminals on death row can get an organ transplant before a good, law abiding citizen can. I'm not kidding. You want to help things, get the criminals off of the organ lists. That'll free up a lot. Some states have them at the bottom of the list, but not all.

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