Photography: Frances Juriansz
That’s when the doctors told Lynn and Jason what the parents had been dreading: Their 18-month-old boy would need a liver transplant.
Founded in 1986, the liver transplant program at SickKids-the largest in Canada-performs 12 to 20 transplants for children every year. With the wait time for a compatible organ from a deceased donor extending anywhere from one month to three years, finding a living donor is the best chance for a child with liver failure.
But no doctor wants to pressure a parent-often in the best position to be a match-into making that kind of decision. “You talk about becoming a donor in a very careful way,” says Avitzur. “You bring up the possibility, explain what the requirements are.”
While fatalities are rare, a liver transplant is still major surgery. As soon as the idea of a transplant came up, Lynn immediately volunteered. Having brought Logan into the world, she felt whatever illness he was suffering from was her fault. Her guilt, however irrational, made the decision simple. I broke him, she thought. I should be the one to fix him.
Over the next two weeks, Lynn went through the tests required to make sure her liver could be successfully divided. Her blood type matched, and after the mandatory battery of tests to ensure she was physically and mentally prepared for surgery, doctors gave the go-ahead.
The night before the operation, Lynn and Logan tossed and turned in their little room in 6A. At three in the morning, they gave up on sleeping. Lynn took Logan down the hall to the playroom and pushed cars around the floor with him until the sun sparkled on the glass towers outside the window. Then Lynn went across the street to the Toronto General Hospital. Doctors cut a small lobe of her liver, packed it in solution and brought it to Logan at SickKids. There, a different team opened Logan, removed his failing organ and replaced it with his mother’s healthy one.
In the waiting room, Jason tried not to think he could lose the two people he loved most in the world.
Photography: Frances Juriansz
A week later, Logan had a new liver and a whole new life. The transplant had worked perfectly, and the toddler was full of energy. While Lynn recovered from her surgery, Logan ran down the hallway, jumping off the playroom steps. “Jay, stop him!” Lynn yelled. “He’s fine,” Jason said. And, amazingly, he was. The kid was a whirlwind, tearing around their home, demanding that his parents play floor hockey with him. “If you had to pick a kid to have liver failure and get a transplant, you would pick Logan,” Lynn says.
But while Logan recovered, the mystery of his sickness remained. Biopsies and blood samples were sent to scientists around the world, but with no clear results. After dozens of tests, the major genetic illnesses were ruled out. A few months later, when the Hampsons asked about the dangers of having a second child, doctors said there was nothing to worry about.
On May 25, 2011, Alyson Hampson was born, a tiny pale thing with fair hair and big green eyes. She was slightly premature but, as far as the doctors could tell, perfectly healthy. Still, it was impossible for Jason to keep the worst-case scenarios out of his head.
In November, when she was just six months old, Alyson came down with a slight fever. Lynn and Jason took her to their local hospital in Hamilton, where doctors said she had a respiratory virus. It was a common illness, something most infants go through, and later that week Alyson seemed to be better. As the family was preparing to head back home, Jason looked into his daughter’s eyes and saw what he’d been fearing most-the faintest tint of yellow.
Lynn couldn’t believe it. They turned on all the lights in their shared room and threw open the blinds, letting the sun stream in so they could get a good look at their daughter’s eyes. Was it real or just paranoia? When the tests came back, there was no doubt: Alyson’s liver enzymes were up and rising higher by the day, a well-known sign ofliver disease. Whatever mysterious illness had attacked Logan was after his sister.
Alyson’s sickness resembled Logan’s, but in fast-forward. In three days, Alyson got all the tests that Logan had been given over a year and a half. While the boy’s illness had progressed in fits and starts, for Alyson it began badly and quickly worsened. On December 12, doctors told the family what they already suspected: Alyson, like Logan, would need a liver transplant.
Photography: Frances Juriansz
Now the parents’ roles were reversed. A person is only able to donate his or her liver once, so this time Jason went through the tests to make sure he was a healthy, suitable match. They needed to move quickly. Lynn and Jason watched the tinge of yellow in Alyson’s eyes transform into a full-body hue. The child stopped eating and had to be given a feeding tube. She needed blood transfusions. Her tiny, fluid-filled belly grew round and hard. It looked to Jason as if she had “swallowed a watermelon whole.”
By late December, as they continued to make preparations for surgery, the doctors were blunt: Alyson was in bad shape. Without a successful transplant, she wouldn’t live long. Their daughter was so young the Hampsons had only ever heard her laugh once. That sound had disappeared when she fell sick. Now they were told they might never hear it again.
December passed like a terrible dream. While Alyson and Lynn stayed in 6A, Logan and Jason moved into the nearby Ronald McDonald House, a place to stay for families receiving treatment for serious illnesses. Two days before Christmas, Jason caught the Norwalk virus, throwing the whole process off-track as doctors kept him quarantined, waiting for him to recover. If Jason was no longer a suitable match-if his health wasn’t good enough or there was something wrong with his liver-the chances of finding another donor in time were extremely slim. He lay in bed, worrying every wasted day was putting his daughter one step closer to death.
By December 26, Jason had recovered from the virus enough to visit the hospital, where the entire family celebrated a belated Christmas together. Logan got a Wii video-game console-an artifact from what seemed like a different life, months earlier, when Lynn and Jason had had the luxury of carefully picking out Christmas presents for their son. The doctors delivered their own gift later that day: Jason was fine. The transplant could proceed, but Alyson was so close to death it needed to happen immediately. They had 48 hours.
The next night, four-year-old Logan stayed with Lynn and Alyson in 6A. Jason was alone, across the road at Toronto General. His mind was crowded with appalling possibilities. What if they opened him up and found a flaw in his liver? What if he woke up and his daughter didn’t? What if something happened to him, and Lynn and the kids were left on their own? Though they didn’t know it at the time, the family’s two separate rooms were right across the road from one another. When Jason looked out the window during his long sleepless night, he was staring at the room where his family was staying, waiting for him.
By 7 a.m., surgery time, Jason was so nervous he couldn’t answer basic questions. “I was a mess,” says Jason. “I was on the verge of just breaking.”