The 5-year-old with the sweet disposition liked Mickey Mouse, painting, playing with toy cars and bowling on the Wii. He loved playing with his brothers, especially 4-year-old Liam. The two boys were inseparable, and Liam remembers wrestling Harrison while they were dressed up in super hero costumes. Nine-year-old Adam made homemade pizzas with Harrison, who always wanted to top his with green beans and pickles! Eleven-year-old Cameron jumped off the dock countless times with Harrison while at their family’s cottage in Traverse City, Michigan.
Harrison loved the water. On one cottage trip, his cousin, Hanna, lowered a minnow net into the lake and then put the net full of minnows on the dock. She remembers watching Harrison gently putting the minnows back into the lake.
“He was not your typical toddler,” Hanna said. “He was bubbly and had a huge personality.”
Harrison’s huge personality masked what was going on internally. Shortly after he was born, he went into cardiac arrest, and he was diagnosed with hypoplastic left ventricle, double outlet right ventricle, transposition of the great arteries and pulmonary stenosis. (The left side of Harrison’s heart was underdeveloped, his arteries flowed out of the right ventricle instead of the left, the two main arteries leaving his heart were reversed, and the blood flow from his heart to his lungs was obstructed.)
Harrison’s parents, Harry and Kristan, were determined to keep Harrison’s life as normal as possible, despite his heart condition.
“We never wanted him to feel any different from anyone else,” Kristan said.
Harrison was small for his age. He would tire easily, and his run was more like a fast walk. If he was exerting too much energy, he would get winded, and sometimes his lips would turn a shade of grayish blue. He didn’t have much of an appetite, so getting him to eat was a constant struggle.
Harrison had three major heart surgeries in his first few years of life, and he was eventually hooked up to an ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) machine. That machine took over the work of his heart and provided some time for his body to try to rest and recover. It was then that Harrison was put on the waiting list for a heart transplant, which was his only hope of survival.
“We knew we did not have much time to wait for a heart due to the limited time that ECMO allows. Harrison’s heart alone was not strong enough to keep his body alive,” Kristan said. “ECMO helped buy us some time to wait for a heart, but unfortunately, time ran out.”
On April 9, 2011, after five weeks on the waiting list, Harrison passed away.
Hanna remembers getting a call from her uncle with the news.
“It was so upsetting because he was so young and had so much more to live for,” Hanna said. “It made me appreciate life, health and family.”
Two months after Harrison passed away, Hanna got a tattoo of a heart with Harrison’s initials. She also got a tattoo of the Donate Life logo.
“I love when people ask me about my tattoos. I tell them about Harrison and the importance of organ donation,” Hanna said. “It’s a way for me to keep Harrison’s name alive.”
Kristan encourages everyone to register as organ, eye and tissue donors.
“Your decision is life or death for many children and adults,” Kristan said. “You can save a life and give the greatest gift to someone in need and their family. Why wouldn’t you donate?”
Harrison’s family miss the goofy, easygoing, loving little boy with the raspy, soft giggle every day.
“Harrison’s story has reached so far. It’s breathtaking,” Hanna said. “He fought and beat so many odds in his five years of life. He was put on this earth for a reason, and he came and did exactly what he was supposed to do.”