Patient Profile: Ray Harris 1-2-3 Strikes and Still Swinging at CKD

My story starts in early spring 1998 in Baltimore, Maryland to be exact, my hometown. My career was soaring as a recent graduate and police officer for the state of Maryland. My personal life was also fruitful as I was dating my lovely wife, Lauren. I knew I was winning at life and I could only see good getting better.

During my early career, as a rookie officer, I was required to work extended hours. I experienced swelling in my hands, legs and feet. I was not alarmed though, thinking back to my years of playing high school sports. I would say to myself “pain goes away, athletes get injured.” My symptoms increased with lower back pain, poor appetite and foamy urine. Within a few days, I was told my kidneys were failing and was referred to Johns Hopkins Hospital. A kidney biopsy was performed and the diagnosis was FSGS (Focal Segmental Glumerulosclerosis).

After diagnosis, all I could think about was life…death… dialysis… kidney disease. The severity of my situation was critical. I was not ready to acknowledge it myself, let alone tell anyone else about my diagnosis. Shortly thereafter, I began hemodialysis and my life was a new normal I never imagined. Dialysis is an invasive and impersonal process which preserves life. I then decided to call dialysis “the joint”. It was my way of dealing with CKD.

Nearly four years after starting dialysis, Lauren and I were married. Then, in mid-spring of the following year, I received a call from Johns Hopkins Hospital that they had a kidney for me. The kidney transplant was successful. After my transplant, everything l experienced had an indescribable newness I’d never felt before.

In June 2005, I awoke with my head pounding and partial vision. I could not get out of bed. Still, I said to myself “pain goes away, athletes get injured.” I awoke in the hospital 10 days later and a nurse explained that I had a stroke and had been in a comma. Two months after my stroke, my transplanted kidney failed, and for the second time I needed dialysis. During this time, I began my workup for a second kidney transplant. I regained a positive outlook by consuming myself with the brighter side of life. In the summer of 2007 I received my second kidney transplant. The kidney was sleepy after a few weeks, but then awoke. “Pinky” as I called her produced beautiful liquid gold. After the transplant, Lauren and I made good on visiting relatives, attending family reunions and vacations that were just not ideal before.

During the fall of 2013, before Thanksgiving, I was involved in a serious vehicle accident. There were multiple cars involved, and I was taken to the hospital. Officers later arrived at the hospital and told me I had an open arrest warrant in Virginia. The warrant was for failure to appear in court. (On the court date missed I was hospitalized in Maryland.) After being released by the hospital from the accident I remained in the custody of the Virginia police.

When in custody, some days I was provided my meds and other days not at all – this caused me to become weak and sick. I began coughing up increasing amounts of blood; within hours, I was enroute to the hospital. After arriving, it was determined my transplanted kidney had officially failed, and I would again start dialysis. Hospital staff all expressed golden hearts of angels. They told me to fight like never before knowing this was my third bout with dialysis. I returned to Baltimore and a familiar routine of the joint (dialysis). In fall of 2014 I decided to “control my controllables”. This meant to live despite dialysis. Lauren and I began attending kidney classes, symposiums and conferences. This increased our comfort level and knowledge of kidney disease; igniting us to promote kidney awareness everyday everywhere.

During my early experience battling kidney disease, it was very difficult to talk about my condition. Now in 2018, we cannot talk about it enough. As a kidney patient for 20 years it would be easy to be upset and bitter about life…death…dialysis…kidney disease, but I choose to focus forward on the future learning, teaching, speaking and helping all people to crush kidney disease in 2018.

This article was originally published in aakpRENALIFE magazine, March 2018.