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Parents of ailing twins cast a wide net to find liver donor

WATCH ABOVE: Mark McAllister reports on the online campaign that is helping one family through a difficult time. They say the support is overwhelming.

TORONTO – An Ontario father faced with the dilemma of only being able to donate part of his liver to one of his two ailing twin daughters has turned to the Internet for help.

“We have faith that we will find this match through this process and in the end everything will be well,” Michael Wagner said in an interview Saturday.

Wagner’s adopted three-year-old daughters both suffer from Alagille Syndrome – a genetic disorder that affects the liver, heart and other organs. He’s decided to donate his liver but can only save one of them. A team of doctors at Toronto General Hospital will decide which of the girls, named Binh and Phuoc, will receive the transplant.

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Wagner and his wife Johanne are going public with their story, along with a website and Facebook page, in the hopes they can find a donor for their other daughter.

“It’s surreal. I started this page, I’m a newbie at this. I started this page between Christmas and New Year’s thinking, ‘Who’s going to bite?’” Johanne Wagner said.

“It started to go up. The number of likes slowly started to go up and now they are just going up really high.”

How you can donate part of your liver

“Liver transplantation is a major surgery. It requires you to be first of all healthy and be able to go through this and survive this operation,” Biljana Potkonjak, the director of Health Promotion and Patient Services at the Canadian Liver Foundation said in an interview Monday.

A potential donor in Canada must be older than 16 years and younger than 60, and be in good overall health.

They also have to have a compatible blood type – in this case A or O – and a body mass index (BMI) of less than 35.

According to the Wagner family’s website, the process for donating a liver can take several days. The “work up” phase includes three to four days in Toronto, following by another five to 10 days after surgery.

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In all, the donor should expect to be off work for up to six weeks.

“We have to realize that we are by definition taking people who are completely healthy and making them sick in order to take someone who is very sick and make them healthy,” Dr. Les Lilly, a surgeon at Toronto General Hospital said in an interview Monday.

Organ donation in Canada

“The problem in Canada is that we do not have a lot of organ donors,” Potkonjak said. “Organ donation rates are very low and the Canadian Liver Foundation is trying to promote organ donation and trying to increase the number of available organs for Canadians who need liver transplants.”

There is a desperate need for more organ donation, according to the Canadian Transplant Society, which says over 1,600 Canadians are added to an organ wait list each year.

WATCH: Minna Rhee follows the agonizing wait for a patient in need of a heart transplant.

Only 25 per cent of Canadians have plans to donate, according to the society, despite over 90 per cent being in favour of organ donation.  One donor can benefit more than 75 people and save up to eight lives.

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“If people send in their forms, if they go to the webpage, and they download the stuff and they get the information in, we’re going to find a matching donor,” Michael Wagner said in an interview Monday. “We’re going to find the person we need, the bigger net we cast, the better chances we have.”

There’s two different types of liver donations in Canada: live and deceased-donor. The deceased-donor program takes organs from recently deceased people and gives it to a sick person, while the live-donor is, as in this case, takes from another living person who volunteers to donate.

But as Lilly explains, the live-donor program often leads to better outcomes.

“Our current system of deceased-donation means that our recipient has to be the sickest person in the province before they are offered a deceased-donor liver,” he said. “When you let people get that sick, sometimes they’re too sick to undergo a transplant, or when they are transplanted the recovery period can be long and complicated.”

– With files from Mark McAllister

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