Sarah Murnaghan, 10, is undergoing surgery for lung transplant

4:19 PM, Jun 12, 2013   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) -- Sarah Murnaghan, the 10-year-old girl suffering from end-stage cystic fibrosis whose bid to get a transplant from adult lungs drew national attention, was getting a lung transplant Wednesday.

Murnaghan's mother, Janet, posted on Facebook that Sarah is in surgery and asked for prayers.

She wrote, "God is great! He moved the mountain! Sarah got THE CALL. ... Please pray for Sarah's donor, her HERO, who has given her the gift of life. Today their family has experienced a tremendous loss, may God grant them a peace that surpasses understanding. Please pray for Sarah and her surgical team and our whole family! We are overwhelmed with emotions!!!! Thank you to all of you for the unending support. Xoxoxo!! God bless! Today is the start of Sarah's new beginning and new life!"

Maureen Garrity, a spokeswoman for the family, says the lungs are from an adult.

Garrity says the family is "beyond excited" but mindful that someone else "had to lose a family member."

Sarah captured the public's attention in recent weeks after her parents pleaded that she be put on the waiting list for adult lungs. Transplant rules in the country have kept many under 12 from receiving adult lungs. Last week, a judge ordered the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to add her to the list for adult lungs. She and an 11-year-old boy awaiting a lung transplant are at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The judge's ruling covered both children.

Ashish Shah, the surgical director of lung transplants at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, says the surgery "is a difficult operation that lasts from four to 10 hours, depending on the patient, previous scar tissue and how the lungs perform after the implant."

If all goes well, patients usually spend one to two days in intensive care and another two weeks in the hospital, he says. But "some patients can spend months in the hospital recovering if there are complications."

A lot of physical therapy and rehabilitation are necessary after the transplant, Shah says.

He says overall the chance of death within 30 days of lung transplant is as low as 5% in most experienced centers. The one-year survival rate is 80% to 90% depending on the center and the complexity of the patients being operated on, Shah says.

About half of patients live to about five years after surgery, and a third make it for 10 years, he says.

Art Caplan, head of the division of medical ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, told USA TODAY, "Adult lungs don't fit well in children's bodies, and that makes it hard to transplant them. You are looking at using a piece of lung instead of a whole lung, and that makes it makes it a more difficult procedure and less likely to work.

"Lung transplants are a difficult operation, and they do fail," he says.

"It doesn't work all that well compared to other kinds of transplants. That's partly because when you transplant lungs, you have to give immunosuppressive medication so that they don't reject the lung. That opens up the lungs to infection. The lungs are constantly exposed to viruses and bacteria, so infection is a huge problem with lung transplants," Caplan says.

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