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Toronto parents turn to Facebook in search of liver donation

06/03/2015 06:20 EDT | Updated 06/03/2016 05:59 EDT
Jacob Craig-Crawford is five-months-old and in desperate need of a liver transplant.

Jacob, who has been diagnosed with biliary atresia and is being treated at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, is on the transplant list.

And Jacob is also "all over Facebook," thanks to his family — something they hope may save the baby boy's life.

Families like the Craig-Crawfords are increasingly turning to social media to find live organ donors for liver transplants and other similar surgeries. In recent months, there have been several other high-profile cases, including Kingston, Ont. twins Binh and Phuoc Wagner and Ottawa Senators' owner Eugene Melnyk.

In both of those cases, hundreds of people from across Ontario and even some from other countries offered to give a piece of their liver, and eventually donors were found.

So when Jacob's doctors said the baby boy needed a liver transplant, his mother, Kaitlin Craig-Crawford, knew what she had to do.

"He has his own Facebook page … a lot of people are filling out forms," she said.

Nobody from the immediate family can donate a piece of their liver, so the family is looking for someone between the ages of 18-40 with the blood-type O-positive or O-negative to come forward.

"Right now we're just going day-by-day," Kaitlin Craig-Crawford said.

Her post has already received several offers to be live donors, though it's unclear if any of those will come through.

Plea doesn't violate hospital rules

Craig-Crawford isn't breaking any hospital rules by reaching out to potential donors on social media, and health care authorities are aware of these pleas.

"If they're waiting for a liver or a kidney, both of which are eligible for a live donor, they'll use whatever means they have," said Ronnie Gavsie of the Trillium Gift of Life Network.

Gavsie also pointed out there's no live donor registry, so it can reach an untapped pool of resources. However, many people who volunteer don't wind up being candidates for organ donation for various reasons.

In the normal organ donation system, once a patient's name is on the waiting list, organs go to the best match at the top of the list.

There are exceptions, though. If a patient's situation deteriorates and their need becomes increasingly urgent, they can be bumped ahead of others.

Each year, more than 1,600 Canadians' names are added to transplant wait lists, according to the Canadian Transplant Society. One-third of those who need a new organ never receive one, according to Canadian Blood Services.

Because around 60 per cent of all liver transplants performed in Canada are done at SickKids, there's an especially high number of parents seeking live liver donations in the city.

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