CHICAGO — A father with cancer is thanking a former classmate for saving his toddler from a rare disease by donating a kidney.
The past few years have been difficult for the Wagner family. According to "Today," Ryan and Ashley Wagner were high school sweethearts and got married in July 2013.
In December, Ashley learned she was pregnant. That happy news was quickly followed by Ryan’s devastating diagnosis. Doctors discovered that what Ryan thought was a stomach bug was actually stage 4 colon cancer. People with similar diagnoses are usually given five years to live.
"The reality of it was too much," Ashley told the "Today." "We have hard conversations and had to talk about things that we didn't think we had to talk about until we were like 60 or 70."
The couple welcomed their son, Miles, in August 2014. Eight weeks later, their lives took another turn when Ashley watched her 2-month-old suffer a seizure.
She and Ryan rushed Miles to a nearby hospital. He was transferred to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago where the family learned Miles suffered from primary hyperoxaluria, which causes organ damage. Miles needed a new kidney and a new liver.
He started dialysis, and 11 months later, he received a new liver.
Six months later, doctors told the family that Miles was finally strong enough for a kidney transplant, but waiting on a transplant list could take six years. So Ashley took matters into her own hands.
She posted a desperate plea on Facebook, asking if anyone was willing to donate a kidney to her little boy.
It was a long shot, but amazingly, one of Ryan and Ashley’s high school classmates reached out.
Elizabeth Wolodkiewicz had been following the family's story on their Facebook page, Team Ryan, and knew she had to help when she learned the was the same blood type as Miles.
"She was very adamant and very on top of things," Ashley told ABC News.
After weeks of testing, doctors determined Elizabeth was a perfect match for Miles.
On Monday, they both underwent transplant surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and are now recovering.
"This is the big light at the end of the tunnel," Ashley told ABC News. "When we started this whole journey, it seemed like the light at the end of the tunnel was never going to be there."
Cox Media Group