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Unlikely Jacksonville donor saves newborn baby

Lucas Hougom was diagnosed with congenital cytomegalovirus, CMV, just hours after birth. The virus attacked his liver and threatened his life.
Published: Jan. 27, 2021 at 7:03 PM EST
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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Just hours old, Lucas Hougom’s life was threatened by a relatively-rare illness for newborns.

Lucas was diagnosed with congenital cytomegalovirus, or CMV. The virus attacked Lucas’ liver.

His parents, Jenny and Tyler, were told he needed a transplant to survive.

“We were told to prepare for the worst,” said Jenny Hougom. “They said hopefully over time and giving him medicine to help with the CMV that it would get better. That never happened.”

After months going from hospital bed to surgery tables, the couple put their infant son on a donor list. No organ from a deceased donor showed up after what felt like months.

As his condition worsened, his donor pool thinned.

“He wasn’t gaining weight,” said Tyler Hougom. “We needed someone around the 100 lb mark.”

They were desperate. They took to Facebook to try and find a match. Hundreds applied, but none fit.

Until, thousands of miles away on Marine Corps Air Station New River, Christina Wettstein emerged as an unlikely match.

“I remember telling the corpsman if you tell me anything else, I don’t care,” said Wettstein. “Just tell me I have O blood.”

Wettstein wasn’t exactly a stranger to the Hougoms. They went to school together back in La Crosse, Wisconsin, but they hadn’t spoken in close to ten years.

Wettstein was determined to help but thought she had the wrong blood type.

“I figured I should just go get tested, anyways,” said Wettstein. “Maybe there’s some like miracle here that it will work out.”

A miracle, it was. Wettstein was a perfect match.

Legally, the hospital could not reveal her identity, but the trio exchanged messages via Facebook about her decision.

“If she wasn’t on the other end of that hospital, Lucas wouldn’t be here,” said Tyler. “I got a text from Christina’s husband, and it was the best three words I could imagine. ‘We’re a go.’”

A year after surgery, the Hougoms have their second child close to their hearts. All thanks to a woman with a desperate need to help two parents who desperately needed it.

“I would do it again in a second,” said Wettstein. “It’s 100,000% worth it. It’s a week of pain and a lifetime of life for another person.”

Lucas is much healthier since the surgery last January, with the exception of weekly physical therapy he does to build muscle he would have developed while he was sick.

“She was pushing so hard that we just do this, that we try it,” said Tyler. “Thank goodness that she did because he’s here.”

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