IU graduate student Yi Jia had one chance to survive stage four cancer: a partial liver donation from a living donor. Today, Jia, a 32-year-old from China, has a new liver and a second chance at life thanks to a donation from a stranger.
Jia’s medical scans of his liver — once riddled with cancer cells at risk of spreading to other organs — are now cancer-free after a successful liver transplant surgery Dec. 15.
“This is a happy ending,” Jia’s wife Shiqiao Wang said. “We feel really relieved, and we are really happy now.”
Jia received his liver donation from Christian Daake, a 25-year-old IU School of Medicine student and IU alumnus.
After a 15-hour surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Jia’s diseased liver was replaced with a removed portion from Daake’s healthy liver. Daake said his liver is expected to fully regenerate.
Jia and Daake were discharged from the hospital within a few days post surgery and report they are both in good health, although Jia is still in recovery with ongoing medications, check-ups and rehabilitation for pain in his right arm due to surgery complications.
Jia’s journey to find a donor began when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, colon cancer cells in his liver, in October 2020. When he was placed on a liver transplant list in September with only months to find a match, he and his wife sent out an urgent request for a donor.
The couple said they were initially hesitant to reach out and were worried they wouldn’t find a match because most of their friends and family were home in China.
However, after sharing their request, Wang said she received more than 100 emails from people across the U.S., China and Canada interested in donating. Memorial received around 50 donor applications, she said.
Daake said he heard about Jia’s story after seeing a social media post of an Oct. 7 Indiana Daily Student article about Jia’s request for a donor.
“My only thought was ‘I can’t imagine one of my friends going through this,’” Daake said. “I’d want to do everything in my power to help one of my friends in that situation.”
Daake said he called Memorial’s organ transplant line, applied to donate and told no one except his mom as he went through rounds of screenings to see if he was a match.
A few weeks later, Wang and Jia received a phone call. The couple clutched each other as they heard Jia’s doctor say Memorial found a matching donor who agreed to surgery.
“We were thrilled,” Wang said. “I was shocked. Speechless.”
Daake said he met Jia and his wife for the first time during pre-surgery preparations. The pair developed a friendly relationship and still keep in contact.
“I was really humbled by seeing how appreciative Yi and his family were after that experience, which is one of the reasons why I think this will probably be one of the most impactful things I ever do in medicine,” Daake said.
Wang said she’s been inspired by the support she’s received from strangers like Daake.
“We just feel so grateful for what everyone did for us, especially Christian, and we really want to help others in the future,” Wang said.
Wang said the experience of finding a donor made her feel more like a part of the United States and strengthened her faith in humanity.
“At first I was worried people would not be willing to help because I’m Chinese,” Wang said, “But when I was looking at the emails of people who wanted to donate, there were people of all different races and ages who were willing to help and that was really awesome.”
Wang said she made many friends in the Chinese American community while looking for a donor. Vivian Liu, who became a close friend of Wang’s after helping the couple, said she was inspired by the love she received helping the couple to share Jia’s request and speak with prospective donors.
“The climate recently in the past two, three years — I think everyone’s felt some type of grief in believing in humanity,” Liu said. “It's kind of a terrible place to live these days, but with how strangers will just give you love and support — it’s a very strong and powerful feeling.”
Daake said he’s sharing his experience as a donor to encourage others to consider organ donation.
“I’m just trying to make the world a better place,” he said.
Daake said knowing he’s changed Jia’s life will never make him doubt his decision.
“I hope he lives to be old as hell, and that he has an awesome life,” Daake said. “Yi, I’ll grab a drink with you in six months because that’s how long we’re not allowed to drink after surgery.”