Community rallies to find a ‘Kidney4Bo’
If you visit Provincetown, you may see someone wearing a “Kidney4Bo” T-shirt. The rallying cry for a kidney transplant for local man, Bo Harris, is echoing loud and clear throughout the Lower Cape and beyond.
“Having to ask someone to give me an organ is a very humbling experience,” he said. “I just put my need out there in the universe, and hopefully the universe will answer my call. The response from this community and from my friends and family has been overwhelming.”
About five years ago, Harris, 55, was diagnosed “quite surprisingly” with Type 1 diabetes.
“With diabetes, one of the things they are always concerned about is kidney disease,” he said. Sure enough, a blood test revealed that his kidneys had started to decline. Then, on the heels of that news, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to put his search on hold.
Now cancer-free, he is eligible for a kidney transplant.
“I've been really lucky that my levels have held out for these last two years. I have 16 percent kidney function, and they've been 16 percent for two years.” (Kidney function of 15 percent or lower would make him a candidate for dialysis.)
Harris is looking for a donor, so he can have a preemptive kidney transplant.
“If you're going to have a kidney transplant, it's the way to do it, if you can do it. The chances of survival and good results are much better with a living kidney, and also with someone who has not started dialysis.”
The kidneys have many jobs in the human body, said Dr. Melanie Greenan, a nephrologist with a practice in Yarmouthport. “They filter out the waste and keep the electrolytes in balance,” she said. Electrolytes control the electrical impulses that course through our bodies.
Diabetes is hard on the kidneys because the high sugars that accumulate as a result of the disease are toxic to the tiny blood vessels of the organ and cause scarring in the kidneys, said Dr. Greenan, who is not involved in Harris’ care and agreed to speak generally about kidney disease and transplant.
“In this country, diabetes is the main reason for kidney loss that leads to dialysis or transplant,” she said.
Interested in Donating?
Harris started the Kidney4Bo campaign in April, using social media, flyers posted around town and t-shirts to spread the word of his search for a donor.
“It's a little weird having to ask someone for the kidney,” he said. “I have to involve someone, and I have to involve someone in a big way.”
Anyone interested in donating a kidney can visit www.kidney4bo.com and click on the “How you can help” page. A link to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where Harris will undergo the transplant operation, leads to an online questionnaire.
“This is where a lot of people can get excluded,” said Harris. “If you have high blood pressure or you're on more than two types of medications, for example, you could get excluded.”
Harris knows of several volunteers who have made it through the initial screening steps.
“I still want people to volunteer, because until I have that kidney next to me on the table, I'm not counting on it being mine,” he said.
Harris is using the Kidney4Bo to share some important facts about kidney disease. Over 100,000 people in the U.S. are on the kidney donor waiting list, and 90,000 Americans die every year from kidney disease – more than breast and prostate cancer combined.
A kidney transplant team looks for a donor candidate who is healthy and does not have diabetes, does not have a strong family history of the disease, and who is not overweight and in danger of developing diabetes in the future, Dr. Greenan said.
How easy is it to live with one kidney? If the person’s two kidneys are healthy and one is removed, the remaining organ will pick up the slack and do the job of the two kidneys without any problem, she said.
“People donate kidneys all the time or have them removed for cancer, and some people are born with only one kidney,” she said.
What is Involved With Donation?
Donating a kidney generally involves a laparoscopic procedure and a three-day, or so, stay in the hospital, Dr. Greenan said. The kidney recipient’s insurance usually pays for all medical costs. Afterwards, both the donor and the recipient are encouraged to maintain a healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and weight, she said.
While waiting for a donor match, Harris and his husband, Paul Breen, have been volunteers with the Cape Cod Medical Reserve’s COVID-19 task force in Provincetown.
Harris, who is a managing partner of his family’s private investment company, and Breen, an insurance broker, met 28 years ago when they were seated next to each other on a flight from San Francisco to Boston.
“We’ve been together ever since,” said Harris. They were married on May 20, 2004.
The outpouring of support for the campaign has been “incredible,” according to Breen. “It's really cemented our decision to move permanently from Boston to Provincetown and be here year-round on the Cape.
“What's even more remarkable is that people we've known for years, either from Boston or here or both, are coming out of the woodwork and saying, ‘I had a kidney transplant,’ ‘I donated a kidney’ or ‘A family member went through this.’ It's just remarkable.”
There’s one statistic that Harris wants anyone who’s thinking about being a kidney donor to keep in mind: 98 percent of donors say they would do it again.
“You only need one kidney, and you have two of them,” says Harris. “As the saying goes, share your spare.”
Find out more by visiting www.kidney4bo.com, www.facebook.com/kidney4bo/ or www.instagram.com/kidney4bo/.
Photo Credit: © Kidney4Bo, 2021