10-year-old's policy-breaking transplant may change policy for everyone

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - Sarah Murnaghan cheered when her mom told her a judge ruled she could receive adult lungs.

No matter the age, we'd probably all react with similar glee, but age is exactly what once stood in the way.

Her mother, Janet, publicized the issue in a cyber fight for Sarah's life.

"We're going to let someone die over red tape?  Someone needs to stand up and say this isn't right!  This is a human issue!" she said.

Organ transplant policy allows adult lungs for patients 12 years or older. Sarah was two years too young.

After the media firestorm that followed Janet's social media posts, lawmakers started to pay attention to whether the policy should apply in this case.

"Somebody at the right time comes along and says, 'I'm not going to accept no for an answer,'" explained USF Public Health Professor Dr. Jay Wolfson. "Somebody says, 'Hey! Wait a minute! Excuse me. You're policy is no longer useful."

According to Dr. Wolfson, social media has changed the medical field forever.

It did for Sarah. Her viral hospital videos moving lawmakers to challenge the policy. Soon after, federal judge ruled against the 12-year minimum in Sarah's case.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius refused to intervene, arguing the decision should be driven by medicine, not media, in order to keep it fair.

But it may have been unfair, Dr. Wolfon says, that Sarah was kept off the list in the first place. Her doctors found no reason she couldn't have adult lungs. As medical technology progresses, policy needs to keep up to speed with it. What may have been a risky procedure when the policy was created may no longer be dangerous.

In light of Sarah's case, organ procurement organizations may now need to revisit their policy for everyone, which Dr. Wolfson believes may happen in a few weeks or months.

"This is the way change happens," Dr. Wolfson said. "Those who do have access to it, and who previously were ineligible or not allowed in, may now get it, and that's a start."

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