"It's unbelievable, the gratitude and relief" - Macleans.ca

“It’s unbelievable, the gratitude and relief”

How an early-morning radio interview brought together a dying man with the woman who would save his life

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On a cool morning last March, Kingston-based artist Sally Milne went on a local radio show to plead for her husband’s life. Suffering from a liver disease that was getting progressively worse, Christopher Mueller, a breast cancer researcher at Queen’s University, desperately needed a liver transplant; Milne, who’d already approached friends and family with no success, found herself on K-Rock‘s morning show, hoping to find a suitable donor. “They asked what Chris means to me,” Milne recalls. “I said, ‘We’ve been married for 22 years.’ ”

Sherrie Edmunds had never met Milne or her husband. But, months later, it was her liver donation that saved Mueller’s life.

Last year, after graduating from the Police Foundations program at Kingston’s St. Lawrence College, Edmunds, 22, took some time off to figure out what was next. She spent a few months volunteering in Thailand, then came home to Kingston with plans to pursue a career in police work. It was at a soccer game that she first learned Mueller from a friend, she says, who’d heard Milne on K-Rock‘s morning show. “We donate blood together, so she knew my blood type,” recalls Edmunds, who says she was impressed by Mueller’s research (he was recently awarded over $250,000 from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation to continue his work). Beyond that, she was touched by his life—”his passion for cooking, his love of his wife, his dogs,” she says. “I got the sense of a really good person, who needed help.”

Edmunds wasn’t the only one touched by Milne’s appeal. “After Sally did the interview, our phones lit up,” says Sarah Crosbie, co-host of the K-Rock Morning Krew, which was presented with the Ontario Association of Broadcasters‘ Community Service Award as a result of the show. “People from across Canada and the U.S. were saying, ‘I want to help.’ ” After hearing from potential donors, Milne would send out packages of information, but after that, “we’d be in the dark” about who was going through the screening process due to confidentiality agreements. They could only cross their fingers and hope.

Donating an organ is, of course, a difficult decision; donating one to a perfect stranger is even more so. Yet Edmunds felt comfortable with the risks involved. According to Toronto’s University Health Network, living donors give a part of their liver, which will regenerate to almost full-size within eight weeks. Yet “there are risks involved with every major surgery,” including complications or infection, Edmunds says. “But I felt the risk was worth the outcome.” Everyone in her family was supportive of her decision, she says; her mom even accompanied her to Toronto, where the surgery took place.

It wasn’t until after the transplant, which took place in August, that Mueller and Edmunds finally met. Both recovering in hospital, they were out walking in the hallway, regaining their strength. Neither had ever laid eyes on the other, but it didn’t ultimately matter. After they caught sight of each other down the hall, Mueller wrapped Edmunds in a tight bear hug. “It was kind of magic, like something you’d see in a Hollywood movie,” she recalls. “All I can remember is him saying, ‘Thank you.’ I dont’ know if I could say, ‘You’re welcome’; I just cried.”

Since returning to Kingston, Mueller and Edmunds have seen each other almost every day. “We walk the dogs, we enjoy life,” Mueller says. “I’ve been cooking dinner for her and my wife all this week.” His health is far better than before—”Everybody says I’m pinker now,” he says—and he’s continuing his research, with plans to be back teaching in the winter term. As for Milne, “it’s like a huge weight has been lifted,” she says. “It’s unbelievable, the gratitude and relief. We’re walking two feet off the ground.”

Edmunds, meanwhile, is struck by the difference she’s been able to make in two people’s lives. “As much as I want to, I’m never going to fully grasp how much it means to Chris and Sally,” she says. “It’s indescribable.”