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Harris gives 'gift of life' to daughter

By BY LYDIA GRIMES – Feature Writer
In past years, the third week in April has been designated as "National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week." This year, Tommy G. Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services, has announced that the whole month of April will be observed as National Donate Life Month to help raise public awareness of the critical need for organ, tissue, marrow and blood donation.
Thousands of people have recognized the importance of giving the gift of life to others. In 2002, 22,741 organ transplants and more than 46,000 corneal transplants were performed in the United States, and an average of 173 transplants were facilitated each month by the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry.
Even so, there are still close to 81,000 people on the waiting list for organ transplants and thousands need tissue and corneal transplants each year. 30,000 people a year are diagnosed with with blood diseases that may be cured with a marrow/blood stem cell transplant. Each day 32,000 units of blood are needed, yet only five percent of eligible blood donors give blood regularly.
One family that has been up close and personal with the transplant program is the Roy Harris family here in Brewton.
Roy Harris probably never dreamed that one day he would be called upon to save his daughter's life. When Lindy Harris Mills was about 8-years-old she was diagnosed with the kidney hereditary disease Alports. She was having lots of kidney infections and knew that something was bad wrong. She went to a doctor in Mobile and was soon sent on to Oschner Clinic in New Orleans where her illness was diagnosed.
She and her family always knew that a kidney transplant was in her future, but had no idea how far away it could be. As she got older, her kidneys worked less and less. She was tired all the time but just thought that was normal.
When she was 28-years-old, Lindy passed out and on a visit to the doctor, the family found out that there was no choice except a transplant. Dialysis would only prolong the inevitable.
Doctors felt that the hereditary disease came from her mother's side of the family so her father would be the one most likely to be a match. Blood tests were performed and there was a match so the two of them had to go to Birmingham to UAB for further tests. This took a few days and included both physical and mental tests to make sure that both father and daughter were ready to have the surgery. The end result was that Roy Harris was a perfect match to be a donor for his daughter and they were both found fit to go through with the surgery.
The two of them agreed that the surgery is harder on the donor than the recipient. The surgery was quiet different 11 years ago and much more invasive than it is today. The donor had a large incision and one rib removed in order to get to the kidney. These days the whole transplant takes place in a small incision and has a much faster recovery time. Roy Harris got to come home sooner than his daughter because of her having to stay near the hospital for a couple of months. He was back at work after three months and everything has been just fine since then.
She wrote a letter to her father and had a medal and certificate made to let him know just how much she loves him and appreciates what he has done for her.
The certificate reads:
Roy Harris never has regretted his decision to give a kidney to his daughter. It saved her life and although he teases her about all the pain he went through, he would do it all over again.
Roy Harris was born into a family of four children and raised on Jay Road. He attended W.S. Neal High School and graduated in 1960. He also got married that year and moved to Brewton. He worked at the A&P Grocery Store and then went to the Brewton Police Department as a dispatcher. In 1967 he went to work at Dairy Fresh and has been there ever since. He and his wife, Barbara, who works at the Brewton Medical Center, have three children, Lindy, Cindy and Dean, and four grandchildren with another on the way.
They love to spend time at their place on Lake Martin where they leave their worries behind. Their granddaughter says, 'You leave your troubles outside the gate when you come to the lake and pick them up again when you leave.' That is exactly how they all feel about the time they spend at the lake.
They are also members of North Brewton Baptist Church. They are just ordinary people who happened to be put into an extaordianry situation and came through it because of their love for each other and the willingness to give.
For those interested in being a donor or waiting for a transplant, there is a transplant support group scheduled for May 1, 6:30 p.m. at the Mobile Gas Auditoriun at 2828 Dauphin Street.