SACRAMENTO – This Christmas Sherri “Kiara” Harris didn’t covet jewelry, a designer handbag or the latest iPhone. The gift of life was at the top of her wish list.
Ms. Harris, 52, is waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant. She undergoes dialysis three times a week, being hooked up for three hours at a time to a machine that removes excess fluid and cleans her blood because her own body cannot. She’s also on a restrictive diet, one that only allows her to have 32 ounces of liquid a day.
“It’s every day of my life. It’s a way of life most people don’t have to deal with,” she said.
Since she hasn’t found a match as of yet among her family members, Ms. Harris is listed at three transplant centers — UC Davis, UCLA and Stanford.
Her savior will likely be a complete stranger. She’s asking members of the community to come forward to see if they are a compatible match for her.
“We’re talking about someone who doesn’t know me from Adam,” she said.
“It’s not a small thing. You’re essentially asking a perfectly healthy person to have surgery they don’t need,” she continued.
A person can live a full, healthy life with one good kidney. A person whose kidneys have failed needs to have a healthy kidney transplanted into their bodies from either a living donor or a deceased person, who has previously agreed to be a donor upon their death.
For Ms. Harris, kidney failure was the result of lupus, an autoimmune disease in which a person’s immune system turns against parts of the body it is designed to protect. Lupus also poses problems for her search in that the disease creates what Ms. Harris calls “strange antibodies” and matches are based on blood type and antibodies.
Because Ms. Harris, who is B positive, has been on dialysis for seven years, there is an urgency to her donor search.
“In terms of lifespan or health span, the sooner the better,” she said of finding someone to give her a kidney.
“Dialysis is very hard on the body overall. The longer you do it, the more health issues you have,” she added. “I’m becoming an old woman while I’m waiting for a transplant.”
With so much at stake, Ms. Harris has taken a proactive approach to finding a donor. She’s created a Facebook campaign called Find A Kidney For Kiara, through which she shares her story and asks for help. She also places cards with her plight in the backs of church pews alongside the Bibles and hymn books. A fellow church member who had seen the card, once called her when a family member was declared brain dead following an accident, but the person’s kidneys were deemed unusable by doctors.
Ms. Harris has learned to roll with the punches.
“It’s not wise to get your hopes up until it’s actually time,” she said.
Transplants are also based, in part, on how long a person has waited and how compliant they are with dialysis. Today, those waiting for matches have increased chances of finding donors through a paired donation list. A loved one or someone else who comes forward to help someone, but finds that they are not compatible to that particular person, can be placed on a national database along with the intended recipient to see if there are matches among other incompatible pairs. Michelle Sturgeon, a nurse at UC Davis’ transplant center, says the database runs a couple of times a week in search of matches. Some loved ones of kidney recipients decide to donate theirs to someone else who they are compatible with, because they’ve witnessed the lifesaving process firsthand. This is called a chain.
Ms. Harris remains optimistic.
“I have to believe there’s someone out there who is willing, and can help me get a match,” she said.
For more on how to become a living donor for Sherri L. Harris, contact UC Davis at (916) 734-3295, Stanford Hospital at (650) 736-0795 or call (916) (916) 245-0553. For more on the living donor process, visit http://ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/transplant/
By Genoa Barrow
Senior Staff Writer