updated 06/12/2013 AT 12:00 PM ET
•originally published 06/12/2013 AT 1:30 PM ET
A 10-year-old girl, whose efforts to qualify for an organ donation drew public debate over how organs are allocated, is getting a lung transplant.
Sarah Murnaghan, who suffers from severe cystic fibrosis, was receiving the transplant Wednesday at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a family spokeswoman said.
Her health was deteriorating when a federal judge intervened last week, giving her a chance at the much larger list of organs from adult donors.
A family spokeswoman says the lungs Murnaghan is getting are from an adult. No other details about the donor are known, including whether they came through the regular donor system or through public appeals.
Murnaghan’s mother, Janet, said in a Facebook post that the family was “overwhelmed with emotions” and thanked all her supporters.
“Today is the start of Sarah’s new beginning and new life!” she wrote, adding that the donor’s family “has experienced a tremendous loss, may God grant them a peace that surpasses understanding.”
A double lung transplant can take six to 12 hours, and Murnaghan’s surgery began around noon Wednesday. Surgeons must open up the patient’s chest, and complications can include rejection of the new lung and infection.
Murnaghan’s case could bring change for other children, as another cystic fibrosis patient at the same hospital has also gone to court to be added to the adult donor list. On June 5, federal Judge Michael Baylson in Philadelphia ruled that Murnaghan of Newtown Square, Pa., and 11-year-old Javier Acosta of New York City should be eligible for adult lungs.
Their families challenged existing transplant policy that made children under 12 wait for pediatric lungs to become available or be offered lungs donated by adults after adolescents and adults on the waiting list had been considered. They said pediatric lungs are rarely donated.
The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network says 31 children under age 11 are on the waiting list for a lung transplant.
Critics warn there could be a downside to having judges intervene in the organ transplant system’s established procedures. Lung transplants are difficult procedures and some say child patients tend to have more trouble with them than adults.
The national organization that manages organ transplants this week resisted making emergency rule changes for children under 12 who are waiting on lungs but created a special appeal and review system to hear such cases.