REAL LIFE

Baby given two weeks to live saved by teen donor

The two families who were once complete strangers now share an unbreakable bond
with album
Marie and Jennifer with Dominic and the photo album they made of Lachy
Supplied

Marie Muhl, 52, South Island, NZ, begins the story in her own words:

Rushing into the kitchen, my 13-year-old son picked up his dad’s wallet and started going through it.

‘What are you up to?’ my hubby Jon asked.

‘I’m looking for your driving licence,’ Lachlann said. ‘I just wanted to make sure you’d ticked the organ donation thing.’

We’d never discussed the subject with our kids, Jennifer, then 20, Ffion, 18, and Hamish, 14, but Lachy had obviously seen something that struck a chord. It was just like him to be so thoughtful. He was such a happy, kind boy.

As a family, we went running together and Lachy would drop back to whoever was behind.

our family
Marie Muhl with her family (Credit: Supplied)

On his first day at his new school, he’d sat with the person he saw struggling to make friends. He’d even leave notes around the house.

Mum when I see your face I smile, one said. You can’t be replaced. I will love you forever.

note
Lachy’s note (Credit: Supplied)

Then one day a year later, Jon and Ffion were at home when they found Lachy unconscious. He’d had a terrible accident and they desperately administered CPR.

But after three days in hospital, we were told there was nothing more that could be done. Our sporty, loving boy was gone. He was just 14.

‘Would you be willing to donate Lachlann’s organs?’ a doctor asked.

‘Absolutely,’ we all agreed without hesitation.

I could hear Lachy’s voice: ‘Why are you even asking the question,’ he’d say. ‘They’re no use to me!’

Losing our boy was devastating. But knowing his organs would change other families’ lives brought us some joy. If something positive could come from something so tragic it was a gift for both sides.

‘Our pain is their gain,’ Jon said.

‘And their gain is also ours,’ I said.

All we knew was that his heart went to a teenage boy and his kidneys went to two different men. It was a privilege to learn my Lachy’s liver also saved a baby boy…

Tangi Ruvea, 42, from the Cook Islands continues the story…

‘Don’t give up, golden baby,’ I said. ‘You’re going to get out of here and we’ll get ice cream.’

At that, my eight-month-old grandson Dominic flashed me a weak grin. He’d been diagnosed with biliary atresia, a rare disease of the liver and bile ducts.

Dom’s mum – my daughter, Moeara, 19 – was finishing her exams at the time, so I’d flown from our home in the Cook Islands to Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland, where Dom was placed on the transplant list.

Once Moeara and my husband Nooroa joined me we desperately waited for a new liver. Without it, Dom had just two weeks to live.

His skin had turned a deep shade of yellow and he was in intensive care. It was heartbreaking, but I never lost hope.

dominic
Dominic’s skin had turned yellow due to biliary atresia (Credit: Supplied)

Then, one night, the phone rang.

‘We’ve got a liver,’ I was told.

Relief and sadness washed over me in equal measures. Our boy was going to be saved but a family somewhere was grieving.

Although donors are kept confidential, I knew that one day I would try to track them down so I could thank them for their precious gift.

The operation took eight hours and when we were allowed to see Dom, I gasped.

‘His skin’s so white,’ I said.

Overjoyed, I appeared on TV to make other families aware of the symptoms of biliary atresia – jaundice, pale poo and dark urine.

Meanwhile, Dom thrived and in May he was allowed to move into the house I’d found near the hospital.

after
After surgery Dominic’s skin was so white

Soon after, I received a message on Facebook from a lady called Marie Muhl.

I have followed the story of baby Dominic and it makes me very happy to see him so well, it said. I wanted to make contact as I believe that Dominic may have received his new liver from my dear son Lachlann. They have the same cheeky smile and long eyelashes.

Tears spilled down my face and my heart filled with love as I read on.

It gives me great peace and comfort to see the happiness that gift of life has brought to you all.

After chatting back and forth, Marie told me she was coming to Auckland to visit her daughter Jennifer at uni.

We’d love to meet you all, she wrote.

When they walked through the door I gave them a big hug. Then I placed Dom in Marie’s arms.

‘Lachlann loved to meet people,’ she told me.

As Dom poked her glasses and touched her nose, I thought how they had that in common! As a gift, they’d made a photo album of Lachlann’s short life.

‘It’s only half full, so Dominic can carry it on,’ Marie said.

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Marie and Jennifer with Dominic and the photo album they made of Lachy (Credit: Supplied)

Dom will be two in May. For him to have this chance is such a blessing.

When he’s old enough to understand, we’ll tell him how he got his scar and the gift Lachlann gave him.

family
Tangi, her daughter Takau, husband Nooroa holding Dominic, her son Rutupau Samuel, Dom’s mum Moeara and his dad David (Credit: Supplied)

This story originally appeared in that’s life! Issue 8, February 22, 2018

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