Dorilyn Harrison of Modesto has an unorthodox way of searching for an organ donation needed to save her life.
When her friends and family members are out on the roads and freeways, magnetic signs on their automobiles make an appeal to potential donors.
The signs read: “Wanted – Kidney donor. Young mother needs a kidney.” Any potential donors are invited to contact Harrison by phone or email.
Harrison said a couple of people have responded and passed an initial organ donor screening, although they apparently were not a match. She received another text Wednesday.
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Harrison, 47, is on the list for a kidney transplant using a cadaver organ but faces a waiting time of four to seven years. Many patients with kidney failure don’t survive that long, so the Modesto mom has taken unusual measures to find an altruistic live donor.
The former assistant principal at Grace Davis High School began searching three years ago when her kidney function dropped to 20 percent. Her kidney function has since declined to 9 percent, beyond the level at which most patients are on dialysis.
Harrison has polycystic kidney disease. She has extremely enlarged kidneys, the size of footballs, that are painful and make it hard for her to breathe. Along with receiving a new kidney, a transplant surgery would remove her enlarged kidneys.
“I can’t get sick with the flu, because it could put me in complete kidney failure,” she said.
Harrison learned she had the hereditary disease when she was 18 years old, after her father came down with kidney problems. An uncle and aunt have the same disease.
Her father lived for 14 years with a kidney donated by his son’s girlfriend but died from complications in September 2015. Harrison’s kidneys began failing when she was 40, forcing her to stop working at Davis High in 2010.
More than a year ago, her mother came up with the idea for the magnetic signs, which were ordered from a business online. About 25 signs are on vehicles in the Modesto area, the Bay Area and Southern California.
Her husband, Thor Harrison, said other motorists slow down to take pictures of the sign stuck to the tailgate of his pickup, and a few have asked him to pull over to talk. A producer for a San Francisco news station saw one of the signs in traffic in the Bay Area, and Harrison’s story ran on television this month.
“The hard part is she does not want to ask people for a kidney,” Thor Harrison said. “If there is an altruistic person who wants to donate, here is a great candidate.”
Dorilyn Harrison also has summoned her courage to contact people who put donor profiles on www.matchingdonors.com, a nonprofit organization that helps find altruistic living donors for patients who need transplants.
“I have a real hard time asking for help, especially for something that would affect another person’s life so dramatically,” she said. “I know I have to do it, but at the same time it is very difficult.”
Candidates are screened
People who respond to the signs are referred to an online screening done by University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center, where Harrison would undergo transplant surgery. The screening determines if they are healthy enough to serve as a donor, then tests are run on good candidates to see if they are a match.
Harrison said UCSF sends them to local labs for the work; a trip to San Francisco isn’t necessary. Coordinators with UCSF work with any potential donors.
As a person with Type O blood, Harrison could serve as a donor for people with different blood types, but she can only accept a kidney from a Type O donor, she said.
Harrison is counting on the live donor option before resorting to dialysis, which could wear down her other organs and increase the risks of a transplant, she said. So far, she has not experienced the severe symptoms of kidney failure, such as shortness of breath, shaking, heart pains and nausea.
But it’s most likely just a matter of time.
Harrison tries not to dwell on kidney disease, so it has less influence on her relationship with her teenage son, Grant. “I try to rest when my son is not around and be as normal as possible when he is,” she said. “I have never wanted him to look back and say, ‘Mom was sick all of the time and we could never do anything.’ ”
Harrison also volunteers as a court-appointed advocate for foster teens. She works with three teenage girls, making sure they have good placements, are on track to finish high school and have success looking for jobs. “We get together once or twice a month to check in,” Harrison said. “I take them out to a meal so they have special time with someone.”
Before she was an assistant principal at Davis High, Harrison worked with the disadvantaged at community health clinics and taught at Elliott Alternative Education Center. She hopes a transplant operation will restore her health and allow her to resume her professional career.
Noel Sanchez, a spokesman for Donor Network West, said Harrison might not have to put signs on cars if more people were registered to donate their organs and tissue upon their death.
Stanislaus County has 173,000 residents who are registered as donors, which is considered a 54 percent registration rate. It puts the county at slightly less than the 56 percent average for counties in the donor network’s service area in Northern California and Nevada.
Donor registration stands at 66 percent in San Francisco. Sanchez said the number of living kidney donors, who are often family members of patients, decreased 37 percent from 2015 to this year.
As an organ procurement organization, Donor Network West, at DonorNetworkWest.org, registers people who wish to donate organs after their death and can facilitate direct donations in which a donor designates an organ for a particular person.
As she waits for a transplant, Harrison tries to stay healthy with vitamins and water therapy exercise.
“It has been challenging,” Harrison said. “Trying to stay positive is the best way I have found to get through this.”
Potential donors can send a text to Dorilyn Harrison at 209-564-6946 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321