(CBS News) – This Christmas, a California family is celebrating the greatest gift they can imagine, a healthy baby boy. But things might have turned out far differently had it not been for the incredible, selfless act of a stranger.
Ten-month-old Jacob Cooper was born with biliary atresia, a rare disease of the liver and bile ducts that can be deadly.
Dr. Yuri Genyk at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles says Jacob needed a liver transplant to survive. “He was getting progressively sicker. He was hospitalized with infection prior to transplant. He was critically ill,” he says.
Chad Cooper, Jacob’s dad, immediately volunteered to be a donor to save his son. But after undergoing testing, he was confronted with a diagnosis of his own. Doctors told Chad they found a mass near his pelvis in his CT and MRI scans, and it needed to be seen right away. He recently had surgery and is recovering.
But with Cooper, and Jacob’s mother, Aileen, both unsuitable donors, doctors began the search for another live donor. They found one weeks later, nearly 2,000 miles away in Ohio.
64-year-old Michael Speck, a father and grandfather who had already donated a kidney to a minister years earlier, was now volunteering again to donate part of his liver to save a stranger. “The surgeon told me it was a little 10-month-old baby. When I found that out I just burst out crying,” Speck says.
In October, in the middle of the pandemic, Speck traveled to Los Angeles for the transplant, which was a complete success. He hopes others follow his example. “There are so many people out there that can do the same thing I did,” Speck says.
He saved a life and formed a forever bond. One that could be seen during a recent video call with Jacob’s parents. On the call, Aileen Cooper told her son’s donor, “There’s no words that can describe how thankful we are to you, Michael. You saved our son’s life.”
Speck said it was an honor and that being able to donate to a child was a miracle.
Jacob’s transplant was the 400th pediatric liver transplant performed at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.