No longer anonymous, Ont. donor bonds with family of girl whose life he saved

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No longer anonymous, Ont. donor bonds with family of girl whose life he saved

Post by Teentitan on Fri 19 Aug 2016, 10:40

Now this is a soldier who I want in my foxhole! BZ

KINGSTON, Ont. -- Michael and Johanne Wagner didn't have to look outside their "extended" family to find donors for their ailing twins, Phuoc and Binh, last year.

Michael Wagner was able to donate a portion of his liver to Phuoc.

An anonymous donor stepped forward to donate to Binh.

Anonymous, until now.

Sitting for an interview at the Wagners' kitchen table, Kris Chung, 21, doesn't miss a beat as first Binh, then Phuoc climb up on him.

"It happens daily," he said.

Chung was a 19-year-old first-year English student at Royal Military College when he was selected from among hundreds of people to provide the life-saving gift.

"I thought most people my age don't have that opportunity," Chung said Thursday during an interview at the Wagners' house. "At the same time, I thought that if Michael can participate and take a few months out of his work to do this, something has to be done to help him out because he has to take care of a huge family."

It was a Whig-Standard photograph of Michael Wagner, in his camouflage uniform, surrounded by his family that first drew Chung's attention.

"Michael is in the military. It's not directed at him, but this is a military family and we all function as a community," he said. "I feel like it's instinctive to lend a hand to someone in your community and, of course, it's the right thing to do."

Chung, who is from Vancouver, also met the general requirements to be a donor. He was a healthy adult between 18 and 60 years old, in good physical shape with a body mass index of less than 35, and had a blood type that was compatible with Binh's.

He was initially screened at the hospital at Canadian Forces Base Kingston and made several trips to Toronto for additional screening before being selected to provide the transplant.

"At first I was hesitant. I took a look online, I went on Google images and looked up the surgical procedures and there were lines everywhere," he said. "But in the end I learned that it was a Sharpie-sized line so it wasn't that bad."

Johanne and Michael Wagner adopted Binh and Phuoc from an orphanage in Vietnam in 2012.

Even then they were sick little girls, malnourished and already showing symptoms of Alagille syndrome, a rare genetic disease that affects the liver, heart, kidney and other systems of the body.

The condition attacked their livers and caused abnormalities in the ducts that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and small intestine. The result was a buildup of bile in the liver that prevented it from working properly to remove waste materials from the bloodstream.

The only option for their survival were liver transplants.

Phuoc received her transplant in February 2015. Binh's and Chung's transplant operations happened the following April.

"I was able to walk on my own three or four days after the operation," Chung said.

RMC made arrangements for him to be moved to a ground floor room of his own and for him to complete his exams later in the summer.

Chung said he has physically recovered and is on track to graduate with the rest of his 5 Squadron comrades on schedule.

In addition to taking care of two young children, her husband and the rest of the family, Johanne Wagner found out through an anonymous tip a few weeks after the second surgery who Binh's donor was.

"I found out way too early on in the game who he was," Johanne Wagner said.

"I even found myself altering my normal day life activities because I was so scared of bumping into him. He would recognize me, of course, and I was scared of how I would react," she said.

"It was quite an emotional turmoil, knowing he was five minutes away and wasn't here."

Chung knew from the Wagners' news conference in Toronto after the second operation that they would like to meet him one day, but at the time he was not prepared.

He, too, was interested in meeting the family but was worried if they did meet that they would not get along.

Over the following year, they communicated with each other online and, in March, just shy of the first anniversary of the second surgery, they met at a Kingston coffee shop.

"It was like meeting an old friend that we hadn't seen for years," Johanne Wagner said. "It was not like the Hollywood moments that people would envision, with the tears flowing. It was like, 'Wow, I'm finally sitting with you.'"

"We had surprisingly a lot of the same values in life, and outlook on life," Chung said.

Since meeting in person, Chung has become like one of the Wagners' adopted children.

In December, he and the whole family are to travel to Vietnam for a month to visit the girls' orphanage and do some work for Twins for Hope, the new non-profit group the Wagners have established to help children there access medical and educational support.

The group's first two projects involved raising money to buy bicycles so children can get to and from school and supporting an elderly Japanese man who runs a centre in Saigon that teaches disabled people to make Lucky Fish ornaments for sale in Japan.

http://www.torontosun.com/2016/08/18/kris-is-part-of-our-family-ont-donor-bonds-with-girl-whose-life-he-saved

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