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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 ...

On Nov. 28, less than one month after Michael’s first blog post, transplant surgeons at Toronto General Hospital removed about 65 per cent of Mr. McNaughton’s liver to graft to Lucy’s ailing one (his would eventually grow back to its full size).

On that day, the Andrades did not know who the anonymous donor was. They figured it must be a family member. “Why would a complete stranger who doesn’t know us want to donate?” Lisa says.

Mr. McNaughton hadn’t wanted to complicate life for the Andrades. “I put myself as anonymous just so that the family could focus on Lucy,” he says.

But after a bit of sleuthing at the hospital – Lisa says there are some nosy aunts in the family – the family managed to find out the name of the donor and match it to e-mails Michael had received. “We were totally blown away,” Lisa says. “It restores your faith in humanity.”

Mr. McNaughton spent a total of six days in the hospital. Lucy Andrade was home in a little more than a week. It wasn’t until February, feeling stronger, that she finally met her benefactor.

“Say you have a new girlfriend and you’re going to meet the parents for the first time,” Mr. McNaughton says. “It’s like that, but a hundred times more intense.”

Lucy was shocked how young Mr. McNaughton was. She would not have expected someone that age to give such a gift to a complete stranger. But all that was secondary. Her husband’s first words to the young man were, “Thank you for saving my wife.”

Of course, the biggest surprise of all was how Mr. McNaughton had entered their lives. Lucy had never expected her son’s experiment with social media to save her life. She had chalked it up as more for Michael’s benefit: “He needed to do something for me, so okay, go ahead.”

Lucy is doing well, although she is still so tired most of time she can’t go out and work in her garden, as she loves to do this time of year. Her liver-enzyme levels are high, but are being lowered through medication. Both are normal effects and are being monitored by doctors.

As for Mr. McNaughton, his only lingering effects from the surgery are also expected ones – some numbness around the incision area, because doctors had to cut through some nerves.

Lucy may not be able to garden, but she is well enough to be taken out for a Mother’s Day dinner with her family on Sunday evening. A picture of the family taken at Lisa’s wedding last summer now hangs above the couch in the Andrades’ home.

“We were never ones to call each other, to hang out with each other,” Lisa says. “But ever since the testing process, we all keep in touch now. It’s really nice. I’m sure that, for my mother, is all she wants for Mother’s Day.”

Words of gratitude

On the day Lucy emerged from liver transplant surgery, Michael went in to a small room at the hospital reserved for family members and cried. When he had regained his composure, he turned on his computer and wrote his blog’s second post. He began with the headline, “Miracles do happen. :’)”

He let everyone know that his mother’s procedure had been successful. He thanked staff at Toronto General, where the operation was performed.

And he thanked the (then still-anonymous) donor: “This message can’t possibly be enough to express how truly thankful and appreciative we are of what you’ve done for us. I could write until my fingers fell off, and I still wouldn’t be thanking you enough.”

He thanked those who had spread the word too and ended by summing up what everyone had done for him and his family – they had given him his mom back.

“She’ll be able to watch me graduate, she’ll be able to travel the world, she’ll be able to enjoy her life again to its fullest, I’ll have a mother to walk me down the aisle when I get married some day, she’ll be able to enjoy time with the people she loves and the people who love her again. … “When my mom fully recovers from this, the sky will be the limit for her. All thanks to you. Thank you. Miracles do happen. Love, Michael Andrade.”

Dave McGinn is a Globe and Mail feature writer.

Editor’s note: Graeme McNaughton grew up in Belwood, Ont. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story.

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