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Omaha Woman Weighs In On Organ Transplant Debate

Omaha Woman Weighs In On Organ Transplant Debate

By Ashlee Pitzl. CREATED Jun 7, 2013

 Omaha, NE - "Who's being bumped off if they're being accelerated all of a sudden?"

Lara Marsh has had cystic fibrosis her entire life.  She understands the plight of two children making national headlines as they wait for lung transplants.

Ten-year-old Sarah Murnaghan and 11-year-old Javier Accosta have the disease as well.  They have just weeks to live, but their ages prevent them from being on the adult transplant list.  Pediatric lungs are scarce.  This week, a federal judge signed a temporary order that places them on the adult list.  If, and that’s a big if, lungs become available in the next week, the children could get their transplants.

The fact of the matter is 18 people will die every day waiting for transplants.  Marsh has been on the list for a year.  She’s 43 years old and takes up to 45 pills a day.  So the thought of someone getting bumped up on the list doesn’t sit well.

“None of us on the list, I don’t think, like where we are on the list,” she said. “We want to be now. We want to be next.”

The waiting list is 1,700 people deep. Fewer than 100 are under the age of 18.

Steve Watson is an Omaha medical malpractice attorney.  He believes the blanket age rules in the organ program are unfair.  “The rule for 12 or 16 or 18,” he says, “those are administrative rules so that you don’t have to make that personal decision when you’re faced with those tough calls.”

Watson can understand why the court ruled to look at the transplants on a case-by-case basis. “What it should be based on is physiological. Are they capable of receiving that organ?” he said.

Last year, the Nebraska Medical Center performed 274 transplants.  They don’t yet perform lung transplants in Omaha, but say there is a severe shortage of organs.  Desperate court filings don’t surprise Doug Bremers of Donate Life Services. “When you have a scarce source of the organs and there are a lot of patients dying waiting, unfortunately this type of situation can occur," he said.

Marsh believes the number of people who die each day waiting, would go down if more people donated their organs.  And emergency court orders wouldn’t be needed. “Donors are the key to having enough organs to go around for everybody who needs them."

Right now, lung transplant patients in the metro are referred to hospitals in Denver, St. Louis and Minneapolis.  The Nebraska Medical Center says it will start the procedure in the near future.

It’s important to note, age guidelines change as medicine progresses.  In the case of the children making headlines right now, doctors say they would likely receive adult lungs well.