December 20, 2012

Son’s kidney donation to his mother the ultimate gift

Noah Harrison donated a kidney to his mother, Erica Johnson, earlier this week. (Photo by John Russell)

For as long as Noah Harrison can remember, he has made all of his mother’s Christmas, birthday and other special occasion gifts by hand.

But this year, Harrison’s gift for his mother goes beyond the typical card or crafty ornament. It can officially be labeled the best gift ever and it came a week early.

On Tuesday, Dec. 18, Harrison gave his mother, 43-year-old Erica Johnson, the gift of life when he donated his kidney to her at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“I am pretty sure this year’s gift will top them all,” said Harrison. “And what makes it even more special is that she didn’t even ask me. It’s something I really wanted to give her. Anything I can do to help my mom,” paused Harrison. “She really needs this transplant. I want to be there for her like she has been for me all these years.”

Harrison, 19, is the youngest of Johnson’s three children. All three were matches. But Harrison, who was the last to discover his mother’s need for a transplant, was the best option.

“It has been a very humbling experience for me,” admitted Johnson. “As a mom, we are supposed to take care of our children and look after them. Here they are, helping me. They all made selfless decisions to donate.

“I have worked to protect my children from harm and pain and for one of my own children to go through this for me … he is just such an awesome young man,” said Johnson through tears. “What character it takes for him to do this. I always said I never had to raise children who would become doctors or lawyers, but they had to be decent human beings. “I feel I have accomplished that.”

Harrison is a pre-med student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is donating his kidney during his Christmas break, which will give him enough time to recuperate after surgery.

Johnson was diagnosed in 2010 with renal failure after years of suffering from chronic high blood pressure. Doctors did not expect her to survive during her two-week stay in the hospital.

“I willed myself to live,” she said. “I felt that if I could make it out of the hospital and go home, then I had a chance.”

She said the next few months were plagued with severe exhaustion, pain and worry. Since her release from the hospital, Johnson has spent 9 hours and 45 minutes a day on dialysis at home.

“What kept me alive, Johnson said pausing. “I knew at that time there was so much I still wanted to be a part of. And as we all do, I bargained. I just asked to be allowed to live through all of this so that I could be a part of all the milestones ahead with my children.”
And thanks to her youngest child, she will get that chance.

“She is always doing stuff for me,” said Noah. “I don’t show her enough how much I appreciate her and how much I love her. This is a great way of showing it.”

Duke Herrell, M.D., performed Noah’s surgery while David Shaffer, M.D., surgical director and chief of the Kidney/Pancreas Transplant Program, transplanted the kidney into Johnson.

“Noah is a great young man and we are all very proud to be a part of such a wonderful gift for his mother,” said Herrell, who helped develop Vanderbilt’s laparoscopic kidney donation program. “It really brings home the message of the season which is family and giving.”