Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is smiling and answering questions as he recovers from a successful liver transplant, his doctors confirmed Thursday.

Dr. Atul Humar, from the University Health Network in Toronto, said Melnyk underwent a liver transplant from an anonymous donor on Tuesday. He said both Melnyk and the donor are stable and "recovering well."

"Mr. Melnyk is in our transplant ICU, but he is awake, he is smiling and he is answering questions," he said.

He added that the donor wishes to remain anonymous and should be recognized as a "true hero."

The transplant came just a few days after the Senators asked the public to help find a liver donor for their owner. More than 500 people came forward, 12 candidates were screened, and a suitable donor was identified on Monday, Humar said.

Melnyk, 55, has been dealing with health issues since mid-January. He was admitted to hospital in April, due to the onset of unspecified liver-related complications.

Humar said Melnyk was initially placed on the deceased organ donation waiting list, but was also offered the option of a “live donation” involving a portion of a living donor’s liver. Melnyk has a rare blood type called AB blood; a transplant from a deceased donor would have required a perfect blood type match, whereas a live donor transplant does not require matching blood types.

Melnyk's family said in a statement Thursday that they were "delighted and relieved" that his recovery is progressing well.

"In the past 36 hours, we have already witnessed a dramatic improvement in Eugene's overall condition," the family said, thanking the staff at UHN who were responsible for the surgery, as well as the anonymous donor.

"We truly admire your unselfish act of kindness and courage to be a living liver donor," they said.

"We are so grateful to you and to your support system of family and close friends who have helped you take this brave journey to save Eugene's life."

Some have expressed criticism that Melnyk was able to find a donor so quickly while others languish on waiting lists, or die before a suitable donor can be found.

Medical ethicist Arthur Schafer from the University of Manitoba says it may be perceived as unfair that Melnyk's plight received more public attention than others without celebrity, wealth or power.

But, Schafer says, the end result is that a life was saved that would otherwise have been lost.

"People are going to donate to Mr. Melnyk -- because of his celebrity and wealth -- who would almost certainly not otherwise donate. So, we are saving a life that would not otherwise be saved, without costing anyone their life," he told CTV News from Winnipeg.

"…In that sense, it may be worth sacrificing fairness in order to minimize unnecessary death."

Doctors hope Melnyk’s public campaign has a spillover effect for patients like Allexis Siebrecht of Winnipeg. The 11-year-old has been waiting eight months for a living liver transplant.

Her mother Liz has been campaigning for donors. “It’s been a lot of work, balancing home life and getting the word out there,” she told CTV News.

Liz said it’s “awesome” that Melnyk was able to receive the life-saving transplant. “That’s super great for him, that would be awesome if a donor became available for Allexis that quick as well.”

In addition to getting the word out, the family is fundraising to help cover medical costs and travel expenses to Toronto, where Allexis will receive the transplant once a donor match is made.

With files from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip