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'He's our hero': Police officer donates part of his liver to save a baby's life

Lt. Steven Tenney, a police officer in New Hampshire, donated part of his liver to save 8-month-old Sloan St. James from stage 4 liver failure.
/ Source: TODAY

Sloan St. James is a smiling, beautiful baby girl, but only a few months ago her parents were hoping for a miracle as their daughter's life was hanging in the balance.

In July, when she was 3 months old, Chris and Sarah St. James grew concerned when she had jaundice and an inflated stomach they dubbed her "Buddha belly."

"You have a glimmer of the worst thing, but then you say it's not going to be the worst thing you think,'' Sarah told Jenna Bush Hager on TODAY Wednesday.

A trip to Boston Children's Hospital resulted in a diagnosis of stage 4 liver failure due to biliary atresia, a rare condition in which bile ducts become blocked. Doctors told them Sloan needed a liver transplant within two weeks.

No family members were a match, so Chris and Sarah put out a call for help on Facebook. A man who had never met Sloan answered the desperate plea.

Lt. Steven Tenney, 40, of the Keene Police Department in New Hampshire was alerted to Sloan's situation by his wife. The father of two knew of the St. James family through his brother's wife, and wanted to do anything to help.

Two weeks after donating part of his liver to save Sloan St. James' life, Lt. Steven Tenney met the baby girl for the first time. TODAY

"It's something you have to do as a human being,'' Lt. Tenney told Hager. "It's a baby, you have to help a baby when it's in need."

He filled out an online survey for Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in nearby Burlington, Massachusetts, then underwent a week of rigorous physical and psychological testing after his blood type was found to be a match.

On Sept. 8, Lt. Tenney had nearly one-fifth of his liver removed at Lahey Hospital, where it was put into a container and rushed 20 miles to Boston Children's Hospital.

Doctors were waiting and ready for Sloan's transplant as her parents hoped for the best.

"Sending her into that OR was like an out-of-body experience because you never want to hand your child over to an anesthesiologist not knowing the outcome,'' Sarah said.

Sloan is now a happy and healthy baby who will have a bond for life with Lt. Tenney. TODAY

They breathed a sigh of relief after learning the all-day surgery was a success. Two weeks later, Lt. Tenney met Sloan and held her for the first time.

"At first I was nervous, but excited,'' he said. "And then seeing her in person, it was great. She was very happy. She's a wonderful baby."

"It was incredible,'' Sarah said. "You would never know what he had gone through. I'd like to think he was a little proud of what he had done. He deserves to be. And him holding her, it's just a new bond created for life.

"He gave us Sloan. We were going to lose her."

Sloan is now almost 9 months old, a healthy and happy baby thanks to a selfless act by a man she never met before her surgery.

"He's our hero,'' Sarah said. "He's Sloan's hero."

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.