The Family Unit

A father’s love

Major Michael Warner is an ordinary dad with a houseful of kids who did something extraordinary.

Four months ago, without a second thought, he donated half of his healthy liver to one of his critically ill twin daughters.

“Michael was the first in line to be tested as a donor. He travelled back and forth to Toronto several times for the testing procedures,” said Joanna Warner, who welcomed the opportunity to speak about her husband.

The Warner’s twins Binh and Phuoc were born in Vietnam and have Alagille syndrome. A condition that disrupts bile ducts in the liver and leads to complications like jaundice, chronic itchiness, and stunted growth. Doctors at Sick Kids and Toronto General determined in February Michael should donate his liver to Phuoc because her condition was more advanced than Binh’s.

Joanna believes Michael would go through major surgery for any of his children because that is the kind of dad he is. He is very involved with their kids, always finding time to do things with them like taking them on bike rides – making an effort to spend special moments with each child.

She says the entire experience has opened a whole new world for the children, who watched their father’s selfless act of love for their sister, his precious little girl.

After receiving confirmation, he was an acceptable donor Michael had to prepare for his surgery. For four to six weeks prior to the transplant Michael had to inject himself daily with what Joanna described as, not-so-little needles.

The Warners have nine children, and they are very proud of everything their dad did for their sister.

“The kids did worry about him having surgery. The three oldest girls took a bus to Toronto from Kingston at three o’clock in the morning to try to see their dad before he was wheeled into surgery on a gurney. Luckily, they just made it on time,” said Joanna.

Binh and Phuoc still face health challenges, but Michael and Joanna try to be positive for the sake of the all the kids, pointing out the most difficult part, seeing members of their family go through major surgery, used to be ahead of them and now it is behind them.

Michael is back to work at CFB Kingston. Although he is on restricted duties, Joanna says he is wonderful, feeling healthy and his liver has already regenerated to its previous size.

Michael and the twins have become social media sensations, their experience generating real conversations around organ donation. After the well-publicized father-daughter first surgery, hundreds of people applied to Toronto General Hospital, home of the country’s largest liver transplant program, to be Binh’s donor. An anonymous donor was found and the liver transplant on the second twin was successful.

“Michael is an advocate for organ donation. He explains to everyone that signing the back of your license is not enough. You have to go to the Trillium Gift of Life website to register for donation. Then speak to your family about your decision. Make sure they know exactly what your wishes are,” said Joanne.

Michael, Johanna and the family are so thankful for the support they have received from civilians, and their military community. They cannot thank the anonymous donor who gave a portion of their liver to Binh directly, so they provide updates on social media hoping the donor sees the busy twins are eating and growing and getting into more mischief each day.

This Father’s Day will be special for the family because they hope to be healthy and all together.

When asked what message Joanna and the kids wanted to pass on to Michael this Father’s Day, with a catch in her voice, Joanna responded simply from the heart, “Just thank you, for being the greatest, greatest father.”

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Vicki L Morrison

Thanks to her husband's military career Vicki reinvented herself as a writer so she could work from home, while taking care of their three kids. A former MFRC executive director Vicki is a passionate advocate for military families who loves telling their stories.

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Canadian Military Family Magazine