When Ben Anderson was in high school, he was heartbroken when he wasn’t a bone marrow match for a friend with leukemia. But years later, he felt blessed to be given the opportunity to honor his friend’s memory — by saving another boy’s life.
“Good night,” said four-year-old Micah, sleepily, and quickly drifted off. But for his parents, Kayla Perron and Bryan Carlson, it would be another sleepless night. The Iron City, Michigan, couple’s little boy had a damaged liver that was unable to produce an essential protein needed to metabolize food. A special diet and vitamins had enabled him to thrive. But recently, Micah suffered a bad respiratory infection, and the antibiotics stressed the organ.
“His liver is failing. He needs a transplant,” the doctor had pronounced.
Please, God, save my baby boy, Kayla prayed as she lay awake night after night, hoping for a miracle.
An Act of Love
Many family members and friends were praying for Micah-and one very special stranger had recently joined the chain. Ben Anderson had never met Kayla and Bryan or their son. But after undergoing testing to be a living donor, a Milwaukee Froedtert Hospital transplant coordinator told Ben he’d matched a little boy, and he began praying too. Please, let me be able to save him.
This is for you, Bo, Ben smiled, remembering the childhood friend who’d inspired him to become an organ donor.
Bo and Ben had gotten to know each other as ball players growing up in Sister Bay, Wisconsin. When Bo was diagnosed with leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant, Ben’s heart broke and he joined most of the 800 residents in town and got tested. Sadly, no match was found. The last time Ben saw Bo was during his final days, when he gave a speech at the high school.
“Love one another, and whenever possible help those in need,” Bo’s heartfelt message had resounded through the assembly hall.
Years later, Bo’s words still echoed in Ben’s heart, and when he learned it was possible to be a living donor, he signed up and was overjoyed to match a little boy.
“I’ll do it,” Ben said without hesitation.
Kayla was driving home from work when she got the call from the transplant coordinator.
All at once, she felt excited, nervous and terrified. Calling Bryan, she could barely get the words out.
“They have a liver! They found a match!” she blurted through tears.
Thank you, whoever you are, she wept.
Ben was also feeling thankful for the second chance to save a boy’s life and to honor his friend’s last request. And after talking to one of his transplant nurses, Cami Loritz, any worries about the procedure disappeared.
One year earlier, Cami had donated a portion of her own liver to a young boy named Braydon.
Cami described in detail every step, from prep to post-op recovery. “You’ll be uncomfortable for a few days, but I’ll have you up and walking in no time,” she vowed.
“She’s done it and come through good as new, and so will I,” Ben told his mom and dad the morning of the surgery.
“The transplant went perfectly,” the surgeon told Kayla and Bryan, but neither breathed easily until he added, “The donor is already awake. He’s doing fine.”
“Can you give him this?” Kayla asked, and slipped the surgeon a photo of Micah so their anonymous benefactor could see the child whose life he’d saved.
You are Micah’s Guardian Angel. We are so thankful for you, she’d written on the back. Ben’s eyes welled up when he read Kayla’s words, and he couldn’t stop showing the picture to his nurses and visitors.
But his real moment of joy came when he got to meet Micah. Being a living donor, Ben was able to give consent, and Kayla and Bryan couldn’t wait to thank him in person. As soon as Micah was cleared for visitors, Ben went to his hospital room. “I made this for you,” Micah said, and gave Ben the crayon drawing he’d worked on all day.
“We can hardly keep him in bed,” Kayla smiled, adding, “Thanks to you.”
Only a few weeks later, Ben felt fit and strong as he and his mom attended a fundraiser for Micah’s medical expenses. Spotting Ben, Micah dashed across the room and leapt into his arms. “You’re my best buddy!” Micah exclaimed, then giggled, “Your moustache is gone!”
Able to eat normally for the first time, Micah grew by leaps and bounds, which Ben was thrilled to see during their frequent FaceTime calls.
Today, a year later, Ben and Micah are looking forward to getting together again once the pandemic is over. “Ben will be a part of our lives forever,” says Kayla. And Ben agrees: “Part of my liver may be in Micah, but all of him has found a special place in my heart.”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.
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