Duo connects through friendship, 1 ‘golden kidney’
By Amy Wolff Sorter
Most people will give good friends just about anything, from advice, to money, to time, to the shirts off their backs. They’ll even give good friends chopped chicken liver, which is what Dallas resident Sheri Ido gives to her friend, Lisa Harris of Anna, each year at Passover.
But when put to the test, most people won’t step up and offer good friends a kidney. Yet, Harris did just that, giving her kidney to Ido, as the latter suffered from stage four of chronic kidney disease (CKD). The transfer of “the golden kidney,” as Ido dubbed it, improved her health, while further solidifying family and friendship bonds that began between the two families more than half a century ago.
In the Beginning
Lisa Harris, formerly Lisa Novin, and Sheri Ido nee Sheri B. Polunksy, weren’t strangers to one another during their formative years. “Sheri’s mother and mine met at Temple Emanu-El,” Harris said. “Because they were both originally from St. Louis, they hit it off really well.” The families regularly celebrated Jewish holidays together, and Harris was good friends with Sheri’s younger sister, Julie Polunsky. Meanwhile, Sheri would babysit her younger siblings, and the Novin kids, from time to time. “Julie and I were the friends,” Harris said. “Sheri was a few years older, but we hung out.”
Fast-forwarding several years, Harris’ older teenage son, Brandon, became fast friends with Ido’s son, Aaron. Neither mom realized the connection, until Brandon mentioned it to his mom. “My response was: ‘Huh. I know their parents,’” Harris said, with a laugh. In early 2017, the boys decided to attend the University of Kansas together. It was also the beginning of Ido’s health slide.
“I was never one to go to the doctor,” Ido acknowledged. However, burgeoning leg issues prompted her sister to take her to a specialist, who diagnosed her with rheumatoid arthritis. And, the doctor found additional problems with Ido’s blood, referring her to a urologist. The urologist, in turn, sent Ido to a nephrologist, who was blunt about his findings.
“He told me I was a very sick woman, that I had stage-four kidney disease,” Ido said. “It scared the heck out of me.” Healthwise, things went from bad to worse. A freak at-home accident led to a broken arm -— “I broke my humerus, which wasn’t so humorous,” Ido said. Following that, she ended up in the hospital with a ruptured bowel, which morphed into almost-fatal sepsis. Harris, as the mother of Ido’s good friend, helped take care of the Ido family, providing meals and other support. And, with husband Toby Harris, she ensured that Aaron and Brandon settled in at KU for their freshman years. “Sheri and I became closer, mainly because our boys were roommates,” Harris said.
Meanwhile, during Ido’s recovery and rehab, she underwent dialysis. “That was the worst thing I’d ever gone through,” said Ido, an RA patient, who experienced a ruptured bowel, and who almost died from sepsis.
Ido explained that, as soon as she was diagnosed with stage four kidney disease, her nephrologist told her to immediately get on a kidney donor list. “He said, you could be on a donor list and feeling great, and might not need it,” she said. “If the creatine is stable, you can pass it up.”
Creatine is a waste product in the blood, filtered out by the kidneys. Creatine levels for people with healthy kidneys don’t top 1.2 milligrams/deciliters. For a year, Ido’s baseline creatine levels were steady at 2.9. Then, in spring 2018, the level moved to 3.4. Right around the time when Harris visited Ido for an unrelated reason.
A chopped-liver connection
Every year for Passover, Ido makes homemade chopped chicken liver. Passover in 2018 was no different, though this year, Ido offered some to her friend, Harris, who gladly accepted. When Harris stopped by for the treat, Ido confessed that her creatine level was creeping up. Harris asked if anyone was providing a kidney. Ido told her friend that her husband, Leon, wasn’t a match, but wanted to do a kidney-for-kidney exchange. Her own family, in the meantime, had a history of kidney disease, leaving them out.
Then came the words that changed both women’s lives. “I told her I wanted her to have my kidney,” Harris recalled. Harris, in fact, had been prepared, according to Ido. “She told me she already talked to Medical City (the organization’s Kidney Transplant Program), talked to her employer and talked to her husband,” she said.
But Ido was skeptical. “I knew others, people who had offered me their kidneys, but it was like ‘if you can’t find anyone else, I’ll give it to you,’” she said. “When Lisa offered hers to me, I was kind of in denial, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up.”
But Harris was determined. “I had to go through a circle of stuff to get more information and to find out how to do this,” she said. “It’s not like there is a 1-800-I-wanna-donate number.” Harris was finally able to get the blood work done, and the news was very good. Harris, with O-positive blood type, was a universal donor, meaning her kidney was available to her friend.
The rest, as they say, is history. Following Harris’ months of tests, the transplant surgery took place Aug. 8. Both women are recovering nicely. Ido’s creatine level is below 1.0. And, Harris has returned to her position as lifestyle coordinator and member service coordinator at The Legacy at Willow Bend in Plano.
The urge to give . . .
It’s safe to say that Harris and Ido are adamant supporters of organ donation, when possible. “My biggest piece of advice is, indicate you’re a donor on the back of your driver’s license,” Ido said. “That way, loved ones don’t have to make that difficult decision if something happens. Most people don’t understand how easy that is.”
Harris, the donor, had other information to impart. Namely, anyone interested in donating a kidney should ensure a support system is in place for care, following the surgery — and that employers are OK with the necessary time off. Harris, herself, was out for six weeks, and is grateful to The Legacy Willow Bend for understanding. “They were beyond helpful and supportive in this decision,” she said.
Meanwhile, the link that began between the two families more than 50 years ago remains strong today. Ido has promised Harris chopped chicken liver each Passover. And, Harris stepped up as a friend, with the gift of her golden kidney. While Ido is beyond grateful for what her friend has given her, Harris doesn’t consider herself a hero.
“I believe God puts us on this earth for a reason,” she said. “It was something I felt I was asked to do.”