The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

He disclosed his 2-year-old’s cancer in a TED Talk. Liver donors lined up to help.

Author Kate Bowler was diagnosed with incurable cancer at 35, and New York Times Contributing Opinion writer Wajahat Ali is the father of a toddler going through chemo. Both share how a cancer diagnosis affects patients and their families. “You have to admire the resilience and the victories,” Ali said. (Video: Washington Post Live)

Three hours before media commentator Wajahat Ali was set to give a TED Talk about why more people should have children, he got the diagnosis: The bumps on his 2-year-old daughter’s liver were signs of Stage 4 cancer.

Ali, who contributes to the New York Times and CNN, was in Canada when his wife, Sarah, called in April to tell him Nusayba was in the hospital. Ali asked whether he should return home, and Sarah told him to stay and give his talk for their daughter.

So instead of getting on a plane back to D.C., Ali gave a crowd in Vancouver his planned speech about why more people should have children. Then he shared Nusayba’s diagnosis, and the audience gasped. Despite everything, Ali told them, he and his wife thought having kids was “the best thing that we’ve ever done.”

In a series of tweets he shared Wednesday, Ali wrote that Nusayba, now 3, had successfully undergone a liver transplant and was recovering. She had awakened after the surgery, said a few words to her parents and gone back to sleep, Ali wrote. She will recover in the hospital for a week or two.

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One of the first questions the anonymous liver donor asked after waking up from surgery was when they could donate blood again, Ali wrote.

“I told the donor’s family my life belongs to them and begged them to tell me how I can repay them,” Ali wrote. “They just said to pray for the donor, their family member, and they wanted Nusayba to live a long, healthy life. There’s still much goodness in the world. Don’t lose hope, ever.”

There had been a setback before the transplant: The surgery was scheduled with a different donor, but the doctor discovered a last-minute complication. The procedure was too high-risk, and the family had to scramble to find a new donor.

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It was, Ali told CNN, a “gut punch.” Nusayba, who loves boba tea, Dippin’ Dots and going down playground slides, already had lost her hair and undergone eight rounds of chemotherapy. If the transplant had to be rescheduled, Ali told CNN, she would have to suffer through yet another round.

More than 500 people, most of whom were strangers, eventually applied to be liver donors for Nusayba. Doctors found a match and went forward with the transplant.

Before her surgery, Ali’s family showed Nusayba a pink stuffed bunny with bandages and IV lines as an example of what she would look like after the transplant. But, Ali tweeted, the real Nusayba is much cuter.

“She’s alive & recovering,” Ali wrote. “My life is complete.”

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