A Facebook post gives a father and son the gift of time
Ryan and Ashley Wagner from Illinois have been together since high school. In the summer of 2013, they celebrated a romantic wedding with family and friends and shortly after that came the good news that Ashley was pregnant with their first child. The future couldn't have looked brighter.
But the couple's story soon took an ominous turn when Ryan began having serious problems with his digestion. At first he thought it was just a case of the flu, but when the symptoms continued, he knew he had to see a doctor.
Then came the devastating diagnosis: Ryan had colon cancer. The soon-to-be father was only 29-years-old. Ashley remembers: "It was a huge blow. It was really hard to digest and, of course, we were really hopeful that it was curable." It all seemed so unfair considering how much effort Ryan had made to take care of himself. "He was young, healthy and he worked out every day, and he jokes now that he feels like he is 90," Ashley said.
The couple began doing everything they could to beat the cancer. Further tests were performed to determine what kind of treatment, if any, could help. Meanwhile, Ashley's pregnancy progressed and the couple tried to look forward to the birth of their first child. It was a stressful time filled with highs and lows. But then their hope was finally dashed: Ryan's cancer was not curable. It was at such an advanced stage that there was little chance that chemotherapy or radiation therapy would help except to prolong his life somewhat. "The reality of it was too much. We have hard conversations and had to talk about things that we didn’t think we had to talk about until we were like 60 or 70," said Ashley.
In August 2014, Ashely gave birth to their son Miles. The child was like a ray of sunshine bringing some light into their lives at a dark time. The birth of his son seemed to give Ryan new strength and hope. The family looked forward to enjoying as many years as possible together no matter how few they might be. But then came the next tragic twist of fate.
A month after his birth, Miles fell ill. He couldn't keep any nourishment down and continually vomited everything back up. At first doctors assumed that he was suffering from acid reflux and gave him some medication. But when that didn't help, they knew that it was something much more serious. At the age of two months, Miles had an extremely high fever and suffered a seizure. His parents brought him to the hospital and after a series of tests Miles was diagnosed with primary hyperoxaluria, a condition that causes toxins to build up in the kidneys and eventually leads to complete kidney failure. Miles urgently needed a kidney transplant.
Miles was put on an organ donor list and began a regimen of kidney dialysis five times a week. At the same time, his father was undergoing intensive chemotherapy in an attempt to prolong his life. Week by week, father and son fought for their lives and enjoyed fleeting moments of tenderness. Hope and fear came in equal measure.
Time went by and after six months of waiting, they still hadn't found a suitable donor for Miles. Doctors told them that it could take up to six years — time that Ryan might not have. Ashley and Ryan were heartbroken as they watched their son continually being hooked up to a machine to keep him alive. Determined and desperate, Ashley started a campaign on Facebook. She wrote: "Is it on your bucket list to save a life?" To her surprise, Ashley received a response from a very special person. Elizabeth Wolodkiewicz had gone to school with Ashley and when she saw the Facebook post, she knew she wanted to help in any way she could.
Ashley and Elizabeth had never really been friends, but that didn't matter to Elizabeth. She had the same blood group as Miles and she was willing to sacrifice one of her kidneys if it meant saving the life of a young child. After some tests it was determined that Elizabeth was an eligible donor — Miles now had a fighting chance! Ashley and Ryan couldn't believe their good fortune.
The transplant was scheduled for February 2017. Considering that children often recover quickly, doctors were very optimistic that the operation would be a success. Miles would have to take medication for the rest of his life to prevent his body from rejecting the organ, but otherwise he would be able to enjoy a long and healthy life. Ashley was incredibly grateful: "I think we were a little blown away that someone we didn’t know very well was willing and committed to donating her kidney."
And in the end, the doctors' prediction was right: the operation was a complete success. Elizabeth hadn't hesitated for a second and even remained happy and positive in the operating room, blowing Miles a kiss before the surgeons began. Ryan and Ashley couldn't believe their luck. It seemed like things were finally going their way and Ryan was even able to make some progress with his battle against cancer.
Ryan is overjoyed to watch his son becoming healthy. His biggest fear was that he would not live to see this happen — that his only son would still be suffering when he passed away. Now he doesn't have to worry anymore, and all thanks to one very brave and generous person who was willing to sacrifice a part of her body to save a child. Miles, Ashley and Ryan have expressed their gratitude to Elizabeth in every way possible, and the smiles on their faces say it all. They've received one of the greatest gifts anyone can receive: time!