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UT pre-med student donates kidney to mom in time for Christmas

2:43 PM, Dec 13, 2012   |    comments
Erica Johnson and her son, Noah Harrison, at his 2011 graduation from Overton High School. He will donate a kidney to her next week. - Submitted to Tennessean
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By Katie Lewis | The Tennessean

Noah Harrison is giving his mother the Christmas gift of a lifetime.

Next week, she'll get his kidney, ending her seven-month wait on the national donor list.

"Most people say, 'I can't believe that; that's so sweet,'" said Harrison, 19, a pre-med student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "To me, I guess, it's not such a huge deal on my part."

His mother, Erica Johnson of Nashville, has hypertension-related kidney failure. Her health issues began two years ago with feeling nauseated for months at a time, with no appetite or taste for food. She lost a lot of weight and had "a general feeling of malaise for months," as well as headaches for days at a time. Harrison said his mom lost her job because of her sickness and was out of work for a few months.

"I finally was scared enough to say, 'Something is very wrong,'" said Johnson. "They ran some tests, and the doctor came back and told me. My kidneys were working at 5 percent."

Johnson was surprised, but not as surprised as her doctors, whom she said were amazed that she was lucid and able to talk. She has since had blood transfusions and gone on dialysis after a nearly two-week hospital stay.

Her doctor didn't sugarcoat the options, she said, but she's thankful for his honesty about how tough it is to wait for a donor's organ.

"They tell you there's no guarantee and expect three to five years, minimum, in terms of waiting for a cadaver donor," Johnson said.

The wait proved to be shorter than expected.

"I asked her how her situation was going and when she was going to get better," Harrison said.

That's when they finally talked about her need for a kidney transplant. Her three children were tested and found to be matches. Harrison, the youngest, proved to be most suitable candidate.

"They all wanted to do it," said Jessica Pasley, representative of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "It was really a matter of which child would be best suited schedule wise and other things."

The procedure will occur next week at the start of Harrison's winter break. This week is finals week for the John Overton High School grad, but he isn't complaining.

"I've been positive about the whole process almost to the point where I'm kind of naïve about it," he said late one night after he got off of work. "I'm just kind of a positive person. I'm trying to help my mom."

Harrison said Johnson called him again this week to ask if he's sure he wants to go through with the surgery and what the family expects to be a several-week recovery, but he hasn't wavered since first discovering he was a match.

"Oh, I'll definitely do it" was his reaction, he said.

"He has a wonderful attitude," said Johnson, who still struggles with her son's decision at times.

But also tough is coming up with a Christmas present for him this year.

"This whole thing makes it really difficult to follow up with a gift for him," she said. "I don't know how I'm going to top this one."

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