The healing power of Facebook

Trent Ernst, Editor


Chantal Bowerman’s father was dying.

Bowerman had resigned herself to the fact that, after four years of waiting for a liver transplant, her 57-year-old father was not going to make it to 2015.

“Two months ago, I was planning his funeral with my mom,” says Bowerman.

Her father, Chris Dyke, had lived a hardscrabble life. As a child, he was in and out of reform school. As an adult, he drove truck and was a singer and harmonica player in a string of bar bands.

But 40 years ago, Dyke contracted Hepatitis C, a leading cause of liver disease, from a tainted blood transfusion more than 40 years ago.

In 2010, Dyke suffered a head injury that caused blood to collect around his brain. During his recovery, his liver started to fail.

And for four years, Bowerman watched as her father slowly faded. As his health failed. As they were unable to find a match.

For most of that time, the hospital looked for a liver donation from a recently deceased person, but, after three and a half years of waiting for a match, nothing happened.

In summer, it appeared there was a light at the end of the tunnel. The hospital opened the search up to include a living donor. One of Dyke’s longstanding friends stepped into the gap, offering a portion of his liver.

Traditionally, organs for liver transplant are obtained from deceased donors, after they or their families have given consent to be an organ donor.

Unfortunately, there are not enough deceased donor organs available. Many patients waiting for liver transplants become too sick to undergo transplant surgery, and some may die while on the waiting list.

In 1989, doctors performed the first successful living donor liver transplant, and over the last couple of decades, the technique has become well established.

The human liver is the only organ of the body that has the ability to regenerate. In a live donor liver transplant, a portion of liver is surgically removed from a live donor (approximately one half) and transplanted into a recipient. In a remarkably short time (sometimes as short as a month) the liver in both the donor and recipient will fully regenerate.

But then, the family was handed more bad news. The friend’s liver couldn’t be used, as the friend was on medication that made the operation impossible.

“It was a huge blow to our family and to this amazing individual who so graciously offered up a part of himself for his friend,” says Chantal. “My father was feeling defeated and ready to give up.”

As a last resort, Bowerman started a Facebook page, called Dad’s fight for Life. “We are hoping that there is someone out there in the Ottawa, Toronto area that might be willing and able,” wrote Bowerman on the page, describing her father’s plight.

And then she sent the link to all her friends.

That was on August 28. Just over a month later, there were two potential donors lined up. But things were looking bad for Dyke. On October 4, Bowerman posted: “Today is not a good day for my dad. He is being taken to hospital for observation and a cat-scan of his head. He has had previous brain surgery to stop clotting on the brain due to a blood disorder related to his Hep C. Today he is shaking uncontrollably and is not making sense when he tries to talk. When asked a simple question he won’t answer or answers with something unrelated. We want to make sure he does not have clotting on the brain or is not at risk for stroke. I will keep you all posted as the day goes on.”

Dyke spent the night in the hospital, with ammonia levels in his blood three times what they should be.

Ammonia is a toxin the liver is suppose to filter and is released from the body through the bowels. However, with his liver not doing its job, the toxins were accumulating in Dyke’s body and travelling to the brain, which in turn caused the cognitive issues.

In the meantime, Dyke’s niece, 26-year-old Amber Alain, stepped forward and volunteered to be a liver donor. Her family was against it at first, worried that the might have to bury two people instead of one, but Alain insisted. She was one of seven people, many complete strangers, who stepped forward.

On October 29, barely two months after Bowerman first posted her plea to Facebook, Alain went to the hospital for her first screening. She was a match. In fact, says Bowerman, her liver was “the healthiest they’d ever seen.”

While it can often take a year for a live donation to happen with all the screening, Alain was driven, and on November 17, the two entered the hospital for the operation, which went as smoothly as could be expected.

That was a month and a half ago. Now, Dyke is home from the hospital, with family and friends. He’s even talking about getting the old band together again. He’s come a long way, says Bowerman, for a man who they had expected to die within the next 24 months.

“When I was asked to create the Facebook page,” says Bowerman, I was skeptical of its benefits. My mom had met a woman who told her a story of how a Facebook page had saved her husband life. Her husband had been on the donor list for a liver and had been waiting a long time. As a last resort she reached out to the public looking for a donor. A very short time later an anonymous donor stepped forward and saved her husband’s life.

“After hearing this from my mom i decided to put our story out there. I had no idea how much awareness and support it would generate. Since the launch of the page, we have generated so much awareness on our story and transplant research. Seven donors came forward for my father for screening and an outpouring of support from family, friends and complete strangers warmed my heart.”

“We had no hope and honestly figured my dad would become another transplant statistic. That he would die waiting on a transplant list, as so many do.”

“What am I going to do with this new life?” Dyke said, in a recent interview with the Ottawa Sun “The only answer that I have is that I cherish and take absolute 100% care of the gift that I have received. The urgency of living is definitely paramount… I just want to suck up the day.”