5-year-old surprised to learn liver donor is his former preschool teacher

"He's got a lot of fun that he needs to be having."

5-year-old surprised to learn liver donor is his former preschool teacher
Courtesy of Karen Toczek
Video byHelena Cheng
June 6, 2024, 6:06 PM

A New York preschooler was surprised by his former teacher who told him she was going to donate a part of her liver to him.

The surprise, complete with a colorful poster and a stuffed teddy bear, was caught on camera by preschool teacher Carissa Fisher's mother, who accompanied her to surprise 5-year-old Ezra, his mom Karen Toczek, and his family at their Alden, New York, home on May 25.

Carissa Fisher and Ezra expect to undergo the liver donation and liver recipient surgeries later this summer, possibly in July.
Courtesy of Karen Toczek

Toczek told "Good Morning America" she and Ezra had "no idea" Fisher had applied to be a donor for the 5-year-old, who has had liver damage and scarring for most of his young life.

"I really struggled to wrap my head around that in that moment, just this is really happening. So it's going to be hers. It's her. She's the one," Toczek, a mom of eight and a foster mom of one, recalled.

Fisher, who met Ezra back in 2022 as his preschool teacher, said she saw Toczek's post on Facebook in March about Ezra needing a liver transplant and immediately knew she wanted to help.

According to his mom Karen Toczek, 5-year-old Ezra is a “very animated” child who “always has something entertaining to say.”
Courtesy of Karen Toczek

"There wasn't really a second thought. I just immediately was like, OK, I have to try this. I have to do this," Fisher recalled.

"I can't sit there and watch a 5-year-old just not be able to do 5-year-old things. I would do it for any one of the kids [I teach]," Fisher added.

Karen Toczek first fostered Ezra when he was 6 months old and officially adopted Ezra when he was 3 in July 2022.
Courtesy of Karen Toczek

Ezra was placed with Toczek as a foster child and later adopted by Toczek in July 2022. Toczek said he has had health challenges from the start and the damage in his liver has mainly affected his energy levels and sleep.

"He doesn't express it when he's not feeling well but there are some days where he just isn't himself," Toczek, a maternity nurse, said.

Both Toczek and Fisher hope the liver donation will help give Ezra his energy back.

"He's got a lot of fun that he needs to be having," Toczek said.

"I just hope he lives a long, happy healthy life, that I get to see him grow up and not be as sick," Fisher added.

Fisher said she was shocked to hear she was a "perfect match" for Ezra.

"The odds of being that good of a match are slim to none … so it kind of came to a shock to me when I finally got that call," the 20-year-old recalled. "They're like, 'You were approved by the medical board and everything,' and I was like, 'Wow, this is actually happening.'"

During the surprise, Fisher showed Ezra a poster that asked him, "Hey Ezra! Would you like to share my liver?" and then gave him the option to check a Yes or No box. Fisher then guided Ezra as he took a marker and checked off the Yes box.

"Previously, on one of his mom's Facebook posts, she was like, 'He can't wait to check this off his list.' So that way, he got to check it off the list," Fisher explained to "GMA." "He was so happy. … He turned around to his family members and he's like, 'I'm getting my liver. She's gonna help make me feel better.' It was cute."

Fisher said she hasn't been nervous throughout the lead-up to surgery, but instead, she feels excited and happy to help. According to Fisher, doctors plan on taking out about 30% of her liver, and then Ezra's damaged liver will be removed and replaced with the portion from her liver. Both her liver and Ezra's new liver are then expected to regenerate and be functional.

Fisher and Toczek both hope by sharing Ezra's story, they can raise awareness about living organ donation.

"One thing we hear over and over again, is that people didn't realize you could be a living donor for a liver," Toczek said. "I've honestly never considered donating an organ to somebody else so just that she's willing to do it with no hesitation and she's excited and just kind of can't wait, it's pretty incredible. Hopefully, that inspires other people."

Fisher added, "I hope it inspires people to maybe put themselves on a living donor list and step out of their comfort zone. It seems scary at first. It was a little intimidating and scary but I hope it inspires people to just help other people."

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