'We crowd-sourced a freaking organ': Online mothers' group saves baby's life

Photo: Robin Dutro Bliven
Photo: Robin Dutro Bliven 

Online mothers' groups have a reputation for being the wild wild west full of high drama, competition and judgement. In some cases, however, they can save lives.

Thanks to the crowd-sourcing efforts of one global group, eleven-month-old Callum Rescsanski, received a liver transplant from a single mum he'd never met, 32 year-old  Andrea Alberto.

But Ms Alberto tells Essential Baby that the decision was a "no brainer". After extensive assessment and testing, the mum-of-two from Boston, underwent ten hour surgery last month as a living donor, something she says was "meant to be".

"The standard for liver donation is high," Ms Alberto explains. " My social worker estimated only 10-15 per cent of people who pass the initial health screening are approved to donate. The odds of me being both healthy enough to donate and also a perfect match for Cal were very slim."

But while the decision to donate to a stranger might seem like a huge one to outsiders the single mum was prepared.

"Last year, my son's gym teacher was a living liver donor," she says. "Then a few months before Cal was listed for transplant, one of my best friends started the process to donate her kidney to another friend. I knew Cal was going to be listed before he actually was, so I chatted with both of them about their organ donation experiences." 

The mum-of-two says she didn't realise just how rare living liver donation is. "My friend was one of less than 370 US donors in 2018," she says. "To me it was just normal! Having people in my life like that not only normalised it for me, it also made it easier for me to make the decision with my eyes wide open."

And she's not comfortable being called a hero.

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"Living organ donation is normal people giving up a few weeks of their life (and gaining an awesome scar) to save someone's life,' Ms Alberto says. "It's amazing! And definitely not something only hero types can do!"

The mum has documented her "adventure" on Facebook, sharing that her liver "couldn't have asked for a better home".
"They tell you in donor evaluation that you, the donor, don't "get" anything out of donation," she wrote. "Looking back at these two weeks, I disagree. The outpouring of love and support, the way family, friends, strangers, have come together to make this remarkable event possible has allowed me to experience some of the best stuff the world has to offer."
But most importantly, she says, "There's my sweet guy Cal."
"[My liver] is going to go to Kindergarten and learn to drive a car. It will get to eat lots of birthday cake and play sports and go to the prom. How lucky is that liver? And honestly, it has never looked cuter."
 
Baby Cal and Ms Alberto's now life-long connection is all thanks to an online mothers' group where "there's no such thing as other people's babies".
In a post to Facebook, mum Robin Dutro Bliven of North Carolina, shared the incredible story behind the group of women supporting one another through the highs and lows of motherhood - and of life.
 "People can say a lot of things about mum's groups on the internet. Here's what I can tell you about mine ...When this little sack of sugar, Cal, needed a LIVER from a live donor in order to survive, over 100 mums from my group called to be screened as potential donors."

Describing Ms Alberto as a "beautiful hero mum", she continues, "Tomorrow this sweet baby will head to a 10 hour surgery to receive a liver from a mummy he'd never met except through Facebook..

"You can talk smack about mum groups on Facebook all you want ... but don't talk smack about mine, because we crowd sourced a freaking organ."

Ms Bliven told Essential Baby that their now life-saving mothers' group was formed back in 2011 over a very common dilemma - a bub not taking a bottle.

"[The creator] was desperate for ideas of how to help make the transition from breastfeeding to bottle. So she turned to the collective mind of mums she knew on Facebook. Her friends added their friends and so on until we now have around 900 members worldwide."

Initially invited to join the group in 2013, Ms Bliven said her first response was "no thanks! Mum groups are nothing but drama and bickering!"

But her friend ignored her and added her anyway. "Nobody has ever done me a bigger favour," she says adding that they've supported members through job loss, death and children facing serious illness.

And, after being a "quiet contributor" last summer, it was Ms Bliven's turn to receive support. "My daughter Bailey who was nine was taken to the ER with severe abdominal pain. What I thought was possibly appendicitis turned out to be a tumour." 

She told no one but her group.

"I'm a single mum living in a town where I have no family anywhere close. My mum friends came. They arranged childcare for my younger child. They came and sat with me during surgery. They cleaned. They cooked. There were my absolute rock.

"As women we get a bad rap for not being supportive ...And trust me that our group has its moments of drama like any family does ... We just choose to lift each other up and know that truly there's no such thing as someone else's baby. They're all ours. When Beth came needing help for Cal, we all answered that call because that's our baby too."

Ms Bliven notes that while some groups may be filled with drama and gossip, "mine is filled with love, support, and organs".

"It's the grandest gesture we've had and it deserved to be highlighted," she says. "I think there's lots of groups out there where the good is happening ...We all need each other in this journey and I'm so glad I have my little corner of the world where I know I'm not alone.