Stephen's Story

A dad’s search for a living organ donor

Within days of learning his infant son had liver failure, Stephen, a determined father, launched an extensive search for a living organ donor that extended to his family and communities of friends, church choir and clubs.

stephen salvador and liz-ann

Liz-Ann, also a member of Stephen’s church choir, was one of the first to hear that his son, Stephen Salvador, was ill. Early on, Liz-Ann got email updates, quickly learning how critical the baby’s situation was.

Stephen Salvador’s illness surfaced suddenly for Stephen and his wife, who noticed something wrong with their eight-month-old son on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019. His eyes looked yellow. Their pediatrician’s office was open and a blood test promptly done. By Monday, the baby was admitted to a local hospital and on Wednesday was transferred to Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital where a diagnosis of liver failure was soon made.

“They were still trying to save the liver at that time but they were not able to,” recalled Stephen. His son’s name was put on the liver transplant waiting list. The Yale New Haven Transplantation Center (YNHTC) team spoke to Stephen and his wife about the opportunity for the liver to come from a living organ donor and encouraged them to spread the word.

Stephen quickly contacted friends and family across the U.S. and Philippines, as well as fellow choir members and the statewide Filipino and national billiards associations to which he belongs. The YNHTC phone line got very busy. “Someone said they had to ask people to come in to answer phones because the phones were just ringing like crazy,” recalled Stephen.

“Now we had to pray and wait for somebody else to come,” he said.

Then on Thursday, Liz-Ann got an email learning Stephen was looking for a living organ donor for his son. “I was obviously surprised, shocked, sad,” said the mother of two grown sons. The email included YNHTC phone number (866-925-3897). “I tried calling within minutes just to get tested,” said Liz-Ann, who is in her early 50s. When she didn’t hear back, she called Friday morning, and left another message. Then she got a call from YNHTC asking if she could go for a blood test. She went that afternoon. Within hours, YNHTC called Liz-Ann to say she was the right blood type, and asking if she could check in to Yale New Haven Hospital that evening for testing because of the situation’s urgency. She called her husband toward making her final decision.

“I went home, packed a bag and checked into the hospital at 9 o’clock that night.” If testing went well, surgery would be Monday; by late Saturday afternoon, Liz-Ann had MRI, CAT scan and echocardiogram tests. On Sunday, Stephen went to Mass. “As soon as I walked out the door of the church to leave” the call came that an appropriate living donor liver was available. “I felt that my prayers were answered,” he said. The donor, he would learn in April, was Liz-Ann.

The transplant surgeries were the next day. During the procedures, a small portion of Liz-Ann’s liver was removed and placed in Stephen Salvador’s body; his entire liver was removed.

“I thought it was a great experience,” said Liz-Ann, who was back to work full-time within five weeks. “I just kept picturing myself if that were my kid, my baby, and knowing someone could be out there being able to help, especially if neither of them could do it.”

Stephen Salvador was discharged 11 days after surgery and his dad says he is doing much better. Throughout his family’s experience Stephen said he felt the transplant team “didn’t just treat us patients, they also treated us as family.”

Stephen added he is thankful to his wife, donor Liz-Ann and God. “You just have to keep the faith. Don’t lose hope, don’t lose faith.”