10yo Sarah Murnaghan has been denied a life-saving lung transplant because of her age. (credit: CBS)
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Relatives of a 10-year-old girl who they say has been denied a life-saving lung transplant because of her age are appealing to the public in hopes of finding a donor to save their child.
"There's unfortunately no options left," said Sharon Ruddock, the aunt of Sarah Murnaghan, who has end-stage cystic fibrosis and has been unable to leave Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for three months, needing a ventilator to breathe.
The child is a top candidate for an organ from a pediatric donor but few are available, and family members say that under existing policy, a lung from an adult donor would be offered first to all adults in the region, even those more stable and with less severe conditions. Relatives launched a campaign for a change in the policy after their appeal was denied.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius on Friday called for a review on the policy on lung allocation to look for ways to make more transplants available to children consistent with the goals of fairness and best use of organs. On Sunday, Sarah's family hailed the review but said she and others like her "do not have the luxury of time to wait for a lengthy bureaucratic change."
"Secretary Sebelius' decision to not exercise her very clear authority under the law to intervene and mandate a variance that would help save Sarah's life is devastating," they said in a statement. "Essentially, Sarah has been left to die."
Ruddock said the idea of direct appeals to adult transplant centers also came to naught and the family was now left with a last-ditch appeal for someone to designate an organ to Sarah.
"We recognize how difficult the end of a person's life is - we are at that point with Sarah," the family statement said. "And we must now ask for the single greatest favor any parent can, and that is to consider naming our child an organ recipient should someone lose the life of a loved one in the near future."
Ruddock said donors would have to be the same blood type, but Sarah is O-positive, which is the most common blood type.
"We're desperate. We think this is our last play for Sarah," Ruddock said. "The family's praying a lot. ... Hope is a distant thing."
Sebelius said the disparity between donors and children awaiting transplants is "especially stark" with only 20 lung transplants last year involving organs from donors up to age 11. She also said she is asking federal officials to "consider new approaches for promoting pediatric and adolescent organ donation."
She didn't directly reference Sarah's case but said she had been petitioned by lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett to take action on the girl's behalf. An online petition calling for a change had drawn more than 304,000 signatures by Sunday.
Officials have said the original system setting priorities didn't establish criteria for children younger than 12 because of a lack of data, but the system was recently changed to give sicker children higher priorities for transplants and to cast a wider net for suitable candidates.
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