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Lucia Andrade sits with her son Michael in their home in Brampton, Ont., on Thursday, May 10, 2012. Michael posted a story about his mother's need for a liver transplant online and eventually found a donor. (Matthew Sherwood/Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mail)
Lucia Andrade sits with her son Michael in their home in Brampton, Ont., on Thursday, May 10, 2012. Michael posted a story about his mother's need for a liver transplant online and eventually found a donor. (Matthew Sherwood/Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mail)

When a son sent out a digital prayer, a stranger answered to rescue his mom Add to ...

There are only two posts on Michael Andrade’s blog on the social-media site Tumblr. But those two say it all.

The first one was written last October. When the 22-year-old accounting student at York University turned on his computer at home in Brampton, Ont. (northwest of Toronto), all other options had failed him.

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“Considering what I am asking for, and where I am posting this,” he wrote, “I do realize this may be a long shot, but I must try everything I can.”

At the top of the lengthy post was a grainy photograph of his mother holding him on her lap when he was just a little boy.

“That woman in the picture above has loved me like no other mother can. She’s the strongest, most unselfish person I know, and has made so many sacrifices so that her four children can live a great, great life. I just can’t begin to describe what she has done for her family, and she will never take any credit or reward for it. This is why I am resorting to every possible way I can, including Tumblr, to get my message across.”

Ten years ago, Lucia (Lucy) Andrade, who is now 61, was diagnosed with primary biliary cirrhosis, a rare, incurable liver disease that predominantly affects women over 40. Doctors told her it probably could be controlled with drugs, and initially it was. But a little more than two years ago, her condition took a turn for the worse. Without a transplant within two years, doctors said, she would probably die.

“Somehow, I had hope,” she says.

She was put on an organ-donor waiting list. The hospital gave her a beeper that she kept by her side 24 hours a day for six months. If a deceased donor was found, the beeper would alert Lucy, who would then have to race to the operating room.

In the meantime, relatives were tested to see if they could be living donors. Most were not a match for Ms. Andrade’s rare blood type, O negative. One cousin was told his liver was too small. But Lucy’s only daughter, Lisa, did share her blood type. A week after her wedding last August, Lisa underwent several days of tests. Finally, though, the 34-year-old schoolteacher was told she could not donate because her liver-enzyme levels were too high. “It was the most horrible day of my life,” she says.

No relative or friend proved to be a suitable match. The beeper remained silent. Weeks dragged on, and Lucy’s condition grew visibly worse. Her two years were almost up. “I was just skin and bones,” she says.

Michael, the youngest of her four children, decided they needed to cast a wider net. “I knew I had to put people in my situation, in our situation, and explain what my mom was going through – what she meant to the family, what she needed.”

His first move was to write a post on Facebook. But he needed something everyone could see. He had never heard of Tumblr until he had taken an online-marketing course the year before, which discussed how effectively the site could spread messages and ideas as they were “reblogged” from one of its 54 million users’ pages to another and another. So he created a page called liverdonor4mom.

Under the headline “Please help us find a liver donor,” he described the symptoms and pain she was enduring: “Just now as I’m [posting]this she was mumbling to herself, ‘Why me? Why me? I’ve never been a bad person.’ It’s so heartbreaking to hear your mom say that.”

Lucy Andrade, a bookkeeper by profession, had always put family first, Michael says. When her husband Terencio’s half-brother had moved to Canada with his wife and six children, the Andrades had taken them in to their house for six months, never complaining about having so many people under one roof built for a family of four.

Michael still remembers his mother driving him to every baseball game and tournament he played in from 1996 through to 2009. “It didn’t matter what she had planned,” he says, “she was always at my games, cheering me on.”

In the Tumblr post, he also laid out what the testing process would require, and asked readers to share the post with others, in the hope of finding a suitable match in the Toronto area.

“I’m just really worried, and I don’t want to lose my mother, especially without me trying everything I can do to save her. She’s done so much for me, the least I can do is spread the word and try to find a donor for her,” he wrote.

Hundreds of readers spread the word, reblogging it on their own sites and posting it across social-networking platforms. Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia posted about the Andrades’ situation on Twitter. Canadian singer Lights posted it on her own Tumblr site. The more people who saw the story, the greater the chances Michael could save his mother.

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