Longtime local resident Chase Harrison seeks a living kidney donor
Editor’s note: The Aspen-based nonprofit Chris Klug Foundation is publishing “Donor Stories” to highlight individuals going through the process of organ donation and organ transplant. The stories are written from their perspective and give a more personal side of each experience. The Donor Stories are published on their website, http://www.chrisklugfoundation.org, and shared on social media in the hopes of raising awareness for organ, eye and tissue donation as well as inspiring others who have gone or are going through similar circumstances.
Longtime upper Roaring Fork Valley resident Chase Harrison was interviewed by the Chris Klug Foundation’s CC Cunningham for this piece June 21. Harrison, 61, embraced the mountain lifestyle of summiting peaks and shredding powder. Now he is racing to find a living kidney donor. Below is his story in his own words.
I’m originally from Atlanta, Georgia. My family would take trips out to Colorado to ski when I was a kid and I completely fell in love with it: Colorado and skiing. I’ll never forget telling my dad as we drove back from Steamboat Springs to Denver, “I’m going to live here someday.”
I graduated from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in 1981 and that’s what really got me motivated to move to Colorado, besides the lifestyle. I spent almost four months at the school and, as soon as I graduated, I moved to Winter Park. I visited Aspen while I was living there and immediately fell in love with the place. My decision was made. After just one winter in Colorado, I packed up my crappy car, moved to Aspen and the rest is pretty much history.
After making the move to Aspen, I became a river guide for quite a while. I also guided mountain bike trips. I’ve basically been a guide for every kind of outdoor adventure sport there is. I was also a volunteer firefighter with the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Department for over 12 years.
About six years ago, I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. That’s when all this stuff with my kidneys started. Then, things really took a turn last spring when I took a monthlong trip down to Ecuador. During my trip, I traveled to the Galapagos Islands for 10 days. The whole experience was great. I don’t have any regrets doing it. However, once I returned home I began to feel really, really sick. I couldn’t stop throwing up. It’s one of those things where you keep saying to yourself, “It’s going to get better, it’s going to get better,” but it wasn’t.
Right around Memorial Day my parents called and my esophagus was so torn up from vomiting that I could barely talk. I knew then that something was seriously wrong. My father is a retired physician and, when I told him how long I’d been vomiting, he told me to get my butt to the emergency room as soon as possible.
As soon as I got to the ER, the doctors immediately told me I was super dehydrated. I mean, I looked like a prune. I had dropped more than 35 pounds since I’d been back and it was critical. That’s when they told me my kidneys were shutting down. More than likely, I picked up some kind of E. coli infection on my trip that was further exacerbated by the diabetes. Since the hospital in Aspen doesn’t have a kidney specialist, a nephrologist, on staff, they packaged me up and sent me to the closest one that does at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction. I ended up being at St. Mary’s for over two weeks. They told me they wanted to keep a close eye on my kidneys, so I’d have to come back regularly for testing. It was only my second visit to St. Mary’s when they informed me that I needed a kidney transplant. Although my creatinine and other levels aren’t great, they’re stable for the time being but, sooner or later, my kidneys are going to go.
Since then, I’ve been going to UCHealth in Denver to be set up with a transplant coordinator and undergo a battery of tests to determine my status on the transplant waitlist. It didn’t take me long to learn what the actual time frame was for a person on the waitlist — you could be on there for years. I also learned, however, that if you have a living donor, it speeds up the process immensely and you can receive your transplant in a much shorter amount of time. Also, with living-donor transplants, the possibility of having any complications post-transplant is much lower. So now that’s my goal — finding a living donor.
I’ve been handling it all pretty well, for the most part. I think dialysis scares me more than actually going through the transplant. The news of needing a transplant really hit me hard at first. The one thing that brightened my spirits was the nurse practitioner at St. Mary’s telling me, “Chase, when you get your new kidney, you will not believe how good you feel.” That really helped to hear him say that.
I’ve definitely had bouts of uncertainty here and there, but I’m just taking it one day at a time. I have a wonderful support group, which helps a lot. My family (in Atlanta) is incredibly close and I’m so blessed to have them to fall back on. They’ll always have my back, no matter what. That’s the way I was raised. It’s the same way with my friends. On top of the love and support of my family and friends, I attribute a lot of my optimism and positivity to my faith. I’m a big believe in prayer. I believe you just have to leave it up to the big guy upstairs and trust that things will work out.
In the meantime, I’m just doing what I normally do. I’m still riding my bike and doing the things I enjoy, the things that I’m passionate about and will always be passionate about. I’ve been an adventure athlete all my life and now I’m an adventure athlete whose kidneys are failing. I can’t go to the athletic extremes I used to and I really have to focus on staying hydrated, but if this is God’s way of saying, “Hey, you need to slow down a little bit,” then I know it’s what I need to do. In the grand scheme of things, there will always be longer races to complete and higher peaks to climb. For right now, the peak that’s in front of me is finding a living donor and getting a kidney transplant — and it’s a peak I’ve never been more ready to summit.
To learn more about Chase Harrison’s search or about living donation in general, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A civil deputy kept her job and was mandated to undergo counseling after Aspen police arrested her in July on suspicion of driving under the influence and reckless driving.
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