Family thanks stranger who donated liver to three-year-old Kingston, Ont., girl

Michael and Johanne Wagner can’t express their gratitude enough.

TORONTO — Michael and Johanne Wagner can’t express their gratitude enough.

The couple from Kingston, Ont., broke down in tears Tuesday as they thanked an anonymous donor who made it possible for the second of their twin daughters to receive a life-saving liver transplant.

Pausing to take deep breaths as they faced a wall of journalists at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, the Wagners said they now looked forward to a long life with their two little girls.

“Thank you for your unselfishness for what you’ve done,” an emotional Johanne Wagner said as she held one of her daughters in her arms. “There’s no other word than thank you.”

The story of three-year-old Phuoc and Binh Wagner has tugged at heartstrings across the country and beyond.

The twin girls were 18 months old when the Wagners adopted them from Vietnam. They are the youngest of the couple’s nine children — the Wagners had five kids before deciding to adopt four more.

The couple knew early on that the girls had liver problems, but didn’t know the extent.

It turned out that the twins have Alagille syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects vital organs. Doctors said they would die without a liver transplant.

Their father learned that he was a match but could donate part of his liver to only one of the girls. He said he couldn’t chose between them so the couple left it up to doctors to decide which child would get the transplant, based on medical reasons.

Phuoc was the one who received part of her father’s liver in February, but the search continued for a donor for Binh. Some 500 people offered to be a donor for her, with about 70 being screened for the process, SickKids hospital said.

An anonymous donor was eventually selected and underwent surgery several weeks ago, donating part of their liver to the child.

The specific timing of the surgery was kept under wraps to preserve the donor’s privacy, but the hospital announced on Monday that both the donor and Binh were recovering well.

The donor’s identity remains a mystery to the Wagner family, but they said they owed the individual a great deal of gratitude.

“He was incredibly brave to come forward and give an incredible gift — they put their life on the line for someone they never met and changed our lives forever,” said Michael Wagner, as tears streamed down his face.

“We’re looking forward to a long life with these girls and finally to have them back home with us.”

While Binh had some issues in her recovery, she is progressing well, the hospital said.

Phuoc’s recovery, meanwhile, was on full display Tuesday, as the three-year-old cuddled with her parents, waved at reporters and smiled for the cameras.

“Phuoc is our rock star guest here today and she had her transplant only two months ago,” said Dr. Binita Kamath, a hepatologist in the transplant and regenerative medicine centre at SickKids.

“It’s not really possible to draw comparisons between the two sisters, but we are anticipating a good recovery for Binh.”

Both girls are expected to live normal lives, Kamath said.

“The livers will grow with them,” she explained.

“We expect them to go to school, to play, to do all the normal activities that kids do, with the proviso that they need continued medical attention and they need to take immune suppressant medications that allow their body to keep the liver that they received.”

The Wagner family said they felt very lucky to have found a donor for Binh and urged Canadians to register for organ donation.

“It saves lives, it works,” said Johanne Wagner. “It should be organ donation day every day. Please keep on spreading the word around you.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

Keaton Wildeboer, of Lacombe, participates in the Westerner Championship Dairy Showcase at Westerner Park on Thursday. More than 150 cattle will be on display at the event, which continues until Saturday, carrying on a tradition started in 1954. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Western Canada’s first dairy showcase since last fall begins in Red Deer

Western Canada’s first dairy showcase since last fall is currently being held… Continue reading

Car thief opening stolen car doors. 
(Black Press File Image)
Idling vehicles attracting thieves, RCMP warns

About one-third of stolen vehicles left idling unattended

Police reveal a collection of drugs, cash and guns seized in an April 2016 bust. One of the men charged was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday.
Advocate file photo
Red Deer man sentenced to 27 months for role in “dial-a-dope” operation

RCMP Priority Crimes Task Force broke up drug operation in April 2016 after four-month investigation

Red Deer RCMP say a 30-year-old man faces sexual charges against a teen. (File photo by Advocate staff)
RCMP’s downtown traffic stops lead to charges

Two traffic stops conducted by Red Deer RCMP officers on bike patrol… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.	Kenney is isolating at home after one of his ministers tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta premier isolating after minister tests positive for COVID-19

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is isolating at home

New York Giants' Evan Engram (88) tumbles after trying to leap over Philadelphia Eagles' Cre'Von LeBlanc (34) as Josh Sweat (94) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)
Carson Wentz rallies Eagles to 22-21 win over Giants

Carson Wentz rallies Eagles to 22-21 win over Giants

North Carolina State safety Jakeen Harris (6) tackles Virginia wide receiver Terrell Jana (13) during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va. Jana's last name doesn't appear on the back of his Virginia Cavaliers football jersey as a tribute to enslaved labourers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, The Daily Progress, Erin Edgerton
Canadian receiver Jana’s name missing from jersey to honour enslaved labourers

Canadian receiver Jana’s name missing from jersey to honour enslaved labourers

Tiger Woods hits from the 11th tee during the first round of the Zozo Championship golf tournament Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, in Thousand Oaks, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Munoz in the lead and Woods with his worst score at Sherwood

Munoz in the lead and Woods with his worst score at Sherwood

The national anthem is performed ahead of the inaugural soccer match of the Canadian Premier League between Forge FC of Hamilton and York 9 in Hamilton, Ont. Saturday, April 27, 2019. Canadian Premier League champion Forge FC takes on El Salvador's CD Municipal Limeno in a CONCACAF League preliminary-round match Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Lynett
Forge FC scores late to win CONCACAF League preliminary-round game in El Salvador

Forge FC scores late to win CONCACAF League preliminary-round game in El Salvador

NHL cancels 2021 Minnesota Winter Classic, All-Star Weekend

NHL cancels 2021 Minnesota Winter Classic, All-Star Weekend

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2020, file photo, Mariah Bell performs her senior women's free skate program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, in Greensboro, N.C. When U.S. skaters and a few foreigners training in this country kick off the season at Skate America this weekend, it could be a rare opportunity to display their wares. So they will relish the chance to get on the ice for competition, knowing that two Grand Prix series events and the Grand Prix Final have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and prospects of national and word championships being held are uncertain.(AP Photo/Lynn Hey, File)
Skate America opens shortened, coronavirus-impacted season

Skate America opens shortened, coronavirus-impacted season

Kang, Song share lead in LPGA Drive On Championship

Kang, Song share lead in LPGA Drive On Championship

Vegas Golden Knights' Alec Martinez (23) is checked by Vancouver Canucks' Jake Virtanen (18) during first period NHL Western Conference Stanley Cup playoff action in Edmonton on August 23, 2020. The Canucks have signed Virtanen to a two-year contract with an average annual value of US$2.55 million. Virtanen had 36 points and 41 penalty minutes in 69 games in the 2019-20 season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Forward Jake Virtanen signs new two-year deal with hometown Vancouver Canucks

Forward Jake Virtanen signs new two-year deal with hometown Vancouver Canucks

Most Read