An online mom group can provide comfort and support to new mothers, but no one ever expected that it could lead to a lifesaving organ donation.
On Sept. 23, Robin Bliven posted an inspiring picture of Andrea Alberto, a mother from her online mom group who stepped up to help baby Callum Rescsanski, 11 months, a little guy in need of a liver transplant.
Although Alberto, 32, had never met Cal, she donated a piece of her own liver to him so that he could live.
"People can say a lot of things about mom’s groups on the internet," Bliven wrote in the caption of the photo. "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 moms from my group called to be screened as potential donors.
"It’s this beautiful hero mom pictured below in our group who stood up to the task. Tomorrow this sweet baby will head to a 10 hour surgery to receive a liver from a mommy he’d never met except through Facebook," explained Bliven.
For Alberto, the decision to donate an organ was easy once she knew a baby in her private Facebook mom group was in need. "I knew organ donation was something I would be willing to do, so when I found out Cal was being listed for transplant, it was a very easy decision," Alberto told TODAY Parents.
How you can save a life through blood and organ donationSept. 17, 201904:06
Bliven revealed that it wasn't easy for Alberto to donate her liver. "She is a single mom who has left her two kids at home and traveled from Boston to New Haven to give away a piece of her body so this baby can live," Bliven said in her Facebook post. "You can talk smack about mom groups on Facebook all you want... but don’t talk smack about mine, because we crowd sourced a freaking organ."
A liver transplant is a surgery in which a sick person's liver is replaced with a healthy one. Most liver donations come from those who have agreed to donate an organ after they are deceased.
But in baby Cal's case, a living donor needed to give up part of their liver to him, giving his liver the opportunity to regenerate. A child's liver can regenerate into a normal size within just a few weeks.
The moms in Bliven and Alberto's Facebook group hold meetups in the Northeast region, and that was when she first met Beth Rescsanski, Cal's mother, in person. Cal was sick shortly after birth and Alberto had stepped up to be evaluated without meeting the family she would end up helping.
"I don't think your relationship with someone is necessary for doing something to help them," said Alberto. "If there is someone in need and there is something you can reasonably do to help them, why wouldn't you do it? I like to think that if it was one of my kids in need, someone from my extended network would step in to help."
So while many mom groups have the reputation of being either judgmental spaces where people compare their kids, or venues for ranting and posting funny photos, this group shows that women have the power to rally together even in their darkest moments.
"When Beth came needing help for Cal, we all answered that call because that’s our baby too," said Bliven of Alberto who is uncomfortable with people calling her a hero.
Alberto, who is a single mom to Jack Brooks, 8, and Ben Brooks, 4, said that her boys have been supportive of her and that her older son has been telling his friends that his mom "saved a baby."
Since the surgery, Cal has been able to have his feeding tube removed and Alberto is making strides in her recovery as well. "Both Cal and I are doing great!" Alberto said. "Our recoveries were generally very typical. I went home after 14 days and Cal went home after 25 days."
Alberto explained that the surgery for liver donation is more invasive than kidney surgery, and that the recovery is a bit longer, but that it is still doable. "I can't tell you how many people had no idea liver donation was possible, and even those that know typically don't realize an adult can donate to an infant," she said. "And there are lots of babies out there waiting on a healthy liver."
"If you are open to the idea of donation, get more information," Alberto said. "You don't need to wait until it's a family or friend who needs an organ — odds are, they never will. But someone else's loved one already does need your organ. Find out if you're a match. You can save someone's life."