When Chris Stahlin and his wife asked mutual friends about a stranger living a few miles away, the same words kept coming back: Good dad. good husband Will do anything for his kids.

These words of Stahlin’s father from Frankfurt resonated with his own two boys.

“It’s something I want to be known for,” said Stahlin. “Whatever people will say is something I want people to say about me as well.”

Months later, the two men from Illinois met with their weeping families in a Chicago hospital room after Stahlin donated 60% of his liver to dad.

It all started with a night of social media scrolling on the couch.

Last summer, Chris’s wife, Sarah, was checking Facebook and came across Dan Drozdz, who lives in Tinley Park. She turned to her husband and said, “You always give blood. It’s a bit different, isn’t it? But you will do it.

The next morning, while driving to his job as a pharmacist, Stahlin, 35, asked his wife to send him the fliers. A few days later, he contacted the number that connected him to transplant coordinators at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Meanwhile, Drozdez, 52, and his wife were scrambling to circulate the plea for a liver — the only remaining option they had was to realistically extend his life, they said. After being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in 2021, the couple turned to strangers and social media.

“The conversation was: If we don’t do something, I may never get a liver,” he said. “We need to do something.”

Droszcz, who sells orthopedic equipment, posted fliers at each of the hospitals where he worked. His wife, Nancy, who works at a school, posted the flyer at the school and circulated it among education associates. And they hoped that the spread of social media would reach someone who might be able to help.

From that night forward, for the Stahlins on the couch, conversation revolved around one simple thought: What would they like someone to do for them?

One day last June, Stehlin arrived at Northwestern for a day of potential donor evaluations. His phone call was followed by paperwork, which was followed by an invitation to return to the hospital.

That day, she met with a nurse, a psychiatrist, members of the surgery team, a social worker and a donor advocate who focused solely on her interests — someone who helped her understand the implications of the procedure and assuring him that he can change his mind if he needs to. They discussed things like how long he would be away from his kids.

Those interested in learning more about organ donation can find resources here,

Dr. Daniella Ladner, a transplant surgeon at Northwestern who assisted with Stahlin’s surgery, said many people are unaware of the option or need for donors to become living donors.

“People don’t know that you can’t live without a liver, so someone whose liver completely fails will eventually die,” Ladner said.

Living donations are rare but effective. Of the 9,528 liver transplants in 2022, just 603 were from a living donor, according to Organ Procurement and Transplant Network, As of Monday, there were more than 10,000 people waiting for liver donations in the US. The federal Health Resources and Services Administration reports that 17 people die per day while waiting for an organ transplant.

“A little part of me was dying every day,” Drozdz said, “and I would probably still be waiting. And a part of me would be getting sicker and sicker, just waiting. For this person thank God.

Unlike other organs, the matching requirements are only one blood type. Ladner said people can donate up to 70 percent of their liver and it will regrow within months or weeks. And living transplants are ideal because they come from a healthy donor, are transplanted immediately and surgery can be planned in advance.

Children can also benefit from living liver donation.

“Most people are really nice people, and most people really want to help other people,” Ladner said. “And given the opportunity and knowledge, they will.”

The Droszcz family got a call last summer, informing them that a donor was available and willing. The surgery was scheduled for August 24.

“It was unreal,” Droszz said. “We couldn’t believe it.”

Just three days after donating 60% of his liver to a complete stranger, survivor Chris Stahlin got his first opportunity to joke around with recipient Dan Drozdz.  The men met on August 27, hours before Staehlin was to be discharged from Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

That morning, the Staehlins boarded Northwestern. From social media, they knew what the Drozdz family looked like. Quietly, Stahlin thought that the couple standing near the elevator might be the Drizzts.

“I turned to my wife and said, ‘I think it was him,’ and she said, ‘He definitely was.'”

Moments later, he entered a different elevator.

He didn’t want to see Drozdz right now, he said. He wanted to save the stranger, and if he was sincere, the emotional investment and frustration should anything go wrong.

Both men remained in surgery for hours. Three days later, Stahlin walked 5 miles across the halls of the hospital. The surgery was on Wednesday; He was discharged on Saturday. These days, “I’m back to normal,” he said.

For Dan, the process was a bit more involved. It took a multidisciplinary team nearly a year to cure the cancer and help him become eligible for a transplant. Before the transplant, he had radiation and surgery, which kept the cancer small enough for a transplant. After the transplant, he stayed in the hospital for a week.

A few days after the surgery, Stahlin appeared at the door of Drozdz’s hospital room.

“How’s my liver treating you?” They said. The two men, both in hospital gowns, embraced as Stalin bent over Drozdz on his bed.

“It’s treating me well,” Drozdz said through tears. Within minutes, Stahlin was meeting the family, including Drozdz’s children.

“We’re parents too,” Sarah Stahlin told them. He showed pictures of his boys, 4 and 7. “We knew you were a father, and you needed to be around for your kids.”

They talked about playing golf, maybe starting watching baseball games together. Droszcz is a Cubs fan; Staehlin roots for the Sox. Stahlin jokingly asked, “How do you feel about being a part of the White Sox fandom now?”

From then on, the two men got together for walks in the neighborhood, for dinner, for lunch. They talk about their children. Droszcz coached his children in soccer when they were growing up; Stahlin is now coaching his boys in baseball and basketball.

Droszcz said his two sons and his daughter, all teenagers, understood. It only added to their pain, knowing that they knew what their diagnosis could mean.

“They all took it really hard,” he said. “They’re doing well now.”

Alison Bowen is a freelancer.



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