Lawyer gets lifeline from anonymous donor

Someone out there wants to give a piece of their liver to Sam Marr, but the Toronto lawyer doesn’t yet know who has agreed to make the ultimate donation.

For more than two decades, Marr has fought for his clients facing lawsuits, but a steadily deteriorating liver has taught him that some battles are more difficult than others.

Marr went public with his plea for a live liver donor in the summer after doctors told him he would most certainly die without a transplant. But earlier this month, his wife’s phone rang. It was the hospital. There was a donor who’s a match.

“They just told me there’s somebody,” says Marr.

“I was thrilled and excited and grateful.”

As a 23-year-old law student, Marr was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a liver condition that’s treatable but eventually leads to death without a transplant.

“I’ve always known this day was going to come,” says Marr, who calls himself a “private person” and told only a handful of people about his condition over the years.

Before receiving the call from the hospital, Marr had told Law Times: “I’m making this public now because the situation demands it.”

Doctors have told Marr they can’t be 100-per-cent certain of the success of the transplant until after it happens. He’s to have the procedure on Nov. 21.

Several people had told him they would get tested to see if they were match, says Marr, but not all of them let him know what the result was. Four people, including his wife Susan, had come forward to be donors but none was a match.

“I’d like to know who the donor is at some point because I’d like to express my gratitude,” says Marr.

“But if they want to remain anonymous, I respect that.”

A married father of two teenagers, Marr had lived with the condition relatively well until recently. But doctors have told him his situation is getting worse.

His model for end-stage liver disease score, the measure of the severity of his condition, had reached 17. His understanding is that 20 per cent of patients who reach 20 on the scale will die within three months and the vast majority will succumb within two years.

Marr’s name is on the deceased donor organ registry but not anywhere near the top. “It’s a bit of a catch-22,” he says. “They give you the organ based on medical need and I’d have to be sicker to get an organ.”

Marr, a former president of the Toronto Lawyers Association, says practising law is one of the ways he keeps his mind off his medical condition.

“The silver lining is that it helps you focus on the things you value: my family, my practice, my community,” he says.

In an open letter appealing for a donor for her husband, Marr’s wife said that if no one helps their family, “this amazing man will be no more and our amazing life together will cease to exist.”

“There are no guarantees on this path. . . . But life is not about guarantees. It is about hope and it is about survival,” she wrote.

“Please help me save the love of my life.”

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