By TANYA PORCARI, age 11
Fifteen-year-old, Anthony Stokes had a heart transplant surgery on August 20th, 2013. This January he is expected to be healthy enough to return to high school. He is excited to be going back to school.
Ten-year-old, Sarah Murnaghan received an adult lung transplant. She is currently recovering at home after her second successful surgery.
According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 120,076 people are currently waiting for an organ, and 18 of these people will die each day. Children from birth to 17 years of age make up approximately two to three percent of the waiting list. There are many more people on that list than the number of organs recovered and transplanted. According to American Academy of Pediatrics, pediatric (child) organ donation and organ transplantation can have a significant life-extending benefit to the young recipients of these organs, as well as a high emotional impact on donor and recipient families. However, existing laws and policies sometimes prevent young children from receiving transplants they need.
There are numerous medical, legal, ethical issues and complicated bureaucratic procedures involved in organ transplantation.
Teenager Anthony Stokes was born with an enlarged heart. His request to be put on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s transplant list was denied because of concern that he wouldn’t comply with medical requirements. According to Anthony’s mother, “They said they don’t have any evidence that he would take his medicine or that he would go to his follow ups.” Joel Newman, of the United Network for Organ Sharing, argued that it wasn’t that simple, “It’s a very individual process,” he said. Newman added that a patient might be placed on a transplant list in one hospital but denied in another for entirely different reasons.
In 2013, 10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan needed an adult lung transplant, because she has cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease* that causes thick mucus to form in the lungs and other organs. It blocks the airways, causing lung damage and difficulty breathing. She was denied a lung transplant based on a 2004 law, which prevented children younger than 12 from receiving organs from adult donors. Kathleen Sibelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, ordered review of the policy, but the time was running out for Sarah.
The Murnaghan family sent a petition with more than 339,000 signatures asking to make an exception to save Sara’s life. Recent advances in medicine made it possible to use adult organs in child transplants, depending more on weight, size and medical conditions rather than age. A federal judge issued a ruling which prevented the enforcement of the age rule in Sarah’s case, giving her a chance to get an adult lung transplant. “All we want is fair treatment for all of these children, including Sarah,” said The Murnaghans.
Children with serious medical conditions requiring organ transplants deserve a chance of life like any other patient on the waiting list. With too few organs and too many people waiting for transplants, is a very complicated issue for patients and their families.
*genetic disease: a disease that is passed down to a child from their parents, just like other traits like eye and hair color.