Judge's ruling enables girl to get life-saving lung transplant

(CBS News) In Philadelphia Wednesday, a federal judge cleared the way for a dying girl to get a lung transplant that could save her life.

Sarah Murnaghan, 10, has stage-end cystic fibrosis and needs a lung transplant. On June 5, a judge's ruling allows Sarah to be eligible for lungs from donors of any age. CBS News

Ten-year-old Sarah Murnaghan has end-stage cystic fibrosis. Doctors at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia told her mother Janet that a lung transplant is her only chance of survival.

"When we came down to the ICU last night," said Janet, "our doctors told us they thought we had weeks, not months."

Longstanding transplant policy stated that children under 12 like Sarah are behind all older patients on the list for adult lungs, which are far more available than lungs from children.

"To say that Sarah and the other children that are waiting are going to be left to die, it's just really devastating and just not a human response," said Janet.

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On Tuesday, Congressman Lou Barletta from Pennsylvania joined the family in petitioning Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to make an exception for Sarah:

"Time is running out. Please. Suspend the rules until we look at this policy, which we all believe is flawed," Barletta said at a hearing.

"This is an incredibly agonizing situation where someone lives and someone dies," said Sebelius.

"Based on their age," responded Barletta. "Based on their age."

Sebelius declined to intervene.

The ruling by a U.S. district court means that the under-12 rule can no longer be applied to Sarah and she can be considered for lungs from donors of any age. Last year there were more than 1,700 adult lungs available, and all but 20 came from donors over age 11.

The rules for transplants say those under 12 are last in line for an adult lung. CBS News spoke to a leading specialist who said these rules may be out of date and that there is no medical reason why a child cannot receive an adult lung if it is the right blood type and size.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook