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Connecticut man saves infant nephew with liver donation

Organ Donation

(WTNH)– Every 10 minutes, a person is added to the national transplant waiting list and that could be a loved one or someone you know.

Full of smiles and active, unless you are following his story, there is really no way of knowing this 15-month-old had a harrowing start to life.

“He was a little bit jaundice and he was struggling to eat a lot,” said Abby Cunningham, Sawyer’s mom.

Days after giving birth to son Sawyer, Abby Cunningham was worried.

Related: Needing an organ transplant doesn’t guarantee a candidate will qualify for an organ transplant

“When he was eight days old he had his first surgery,” said Cunningham.

Then came the devastating diagnosis of Biliary Atresia, a rare liver disease in infants.

“It was terrifying,” said Cunningham

Uncertainty set in.

“We knew eventually he would need a transplant but we had no idea when,” said Cunningham.

That came soon enough.

“When he was 6-months-old, he was in complete liver failure and that was when he was listed for transplant,” said Cunningham.

Sawyer joined thousands of others on the national transplant waiting list. They were told a living donor was the best option. So the search began with a Facebook page.

“Through that, hundreds of people applied,” said Cunningham.

Related: Life after organ transplant can be complicated but rewarding

Family members also stepped up.

“He as a child, it’s not always the easiest thing to get a match,” said Cunningham.

Sawyer’s uncle was the first to be tested.

“And they warned us that normally that it’s not that first person,” said Tyler Gyenizs, Sawyer’s uncle.”We knew we had the same blood type.”

Turns out, Tyler Gyenizs was a lifesaving match.

“They were like, slim chances, small percentages, coming out of the testing, just very hopeful that it would be me,” said Gyenizs. “I was happy I was able to be the first one tested, the first match because I didn’t want Abby waiting any longer, I didn’t want Sawyer waiting any longer.”

A family match is oftentimes not the case, underscoring the critical need for organ donors.

“Ninety-five percent of people support organ and tissue donation but only nationally 58 percent are registered. So there is a disconnect with who supports it and who are registered,” said Alison Keating, Donate Life CT.

In Connecticut, 46 percent of eligible adults, 18 years and older, are registered organ donors.
Signing up is essential and so is informing loved ones.

“Family members in that moment have said, well if my loved one wanted to be a donor, they would have registered so I don’t think we should have them be a donor,” said Keating.

There are a number of myths circulating, including that you can age out of organ donation.

“No, we always encourage people, no matter what the age, let the doctors decide when a person passes on what can be donated because there’s so many things that can be donated,” said Keating.

A gift this family values with every step this little guy takes.

Related: Organ donors are needed. Should you be an organ donor?

“It is pretty crazy to think about, they just took a small piece of my liver and now it’s going to be his liver and it’s going to grow with him and to be part of him forever,” said Gyenizs.

Abby Cunningham and Tyler Gyenizs were not registered donors before Sawyer was born.
They are now. The process is simple.

Click here for all the information you need is about organ donation including the facts and myths about donating.

Twenty people die every day waiting for a transplant. Consider giving the gift of life.

WEB EXTRA: Expert, living donor bust myths and tell you what you need to know about organ donation

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