Imagine Nicholas Harris’s relief when he learnt that he was a perfect match and was able to donate half of his liver to his daughter, 18-year-old Dijonay “DJ” Harris, who was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver.
But also imagine the crippling fear that haunted him when he considered the fact that there was a possibility that he would not leave the operating room alive.
It was a potpourri of tears, relief, and worry.
Harris had done blood tests and X-rays when his daughter was diagnosed. While the family hoped to find a match, they reached out to the Jamaica Observer in February 2022 to spread awareness, with faith high that they would be able to raise enough money to fund the transplant that cost US$1 million. At the time they had only US$16,940 from donations on a GoFundMe account.
But one day optimism was renewed when Harris received a call from doctors at University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), where his daughter had been admitted.
“I was at work when my daughter’s doctor called me and said, ‘Mr Harris, we have some good news.’ They said they got back my blood work and my blood matches hers so that simply means I could be the donor,” he recalled to the Sunday Observer.
“To find someone that matches her blood type is one thing, but then to get that person to donate would’ve been another challenge. Prior to that, it seemed like it was a very far-fetched situation because one of the doctors highlighted to me the long wait in many countries. It seemed like a lost cause at one point.”
Cirrhosis of the liver is a late-stage liver disease in which the healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue and the liver is permanently damaged. Scar tissue keeps the liver from working properly.
Earlier this year Dijonay’s cirrhosis had increased rapidly and her body started to deteriorate slowly.
While Harris wasn’t hesitant, he was surely overcome with nerves. Harris said he cried many days as he contemplated all the things that could go wrong.
“I knew that I was not going to hesitate. The doctors knew too, because when they contacted me they sounded so elated. It was nerve-wrecking. I was willing to do it, but at the same time I’m scared. Doctors sat me down as it’s a part of their duty to explain to me what it’s going to be like and part of that explanation is them going through all that can go wrong,” he said.
“Trust me, the number of things that can go wrong… the probability is so high. I was really afraid, but despite the level of fear that I was experiencing I decided to jump in. Friends and family that are close to me can tell you that there were nights when I was just sitting and crying because I was afraid. Yet still I knew that I would have to do this. It was like a bittersweet situation. It is like getting a sentence that you cannot reverse,” he shared.
Dijonay’s 14-hour surgery took place on August 29, 2022 at Bustamante Hospital for Children. She is still in the Intensive Care Unit. Her father was discharged and is on the mend at home.
Dijonay’s aunt Stacyann McFarlane Francis, who had contacted the Sunday Observer, is today overcome with emotion.
Francis said, following her niece’s diagnosis, the family knew immediately that they needed lots of assistance, advice, and prayers to fight. She added that her first thought was how she could bring awareness to the situation and make it as public as she could, with hopes of a generous medical team coming on board to execute the procedure.
“My initial thought was Jamaica Observer as it’s widespread. Thanks to Observer for helping us to make this public and bringing attention to her situation, which helped her thus far, and gave her another chance at life. God bless you,” she said.
Francis told the Sunday Observer that the surgery was intense and stressful.
“It was one that was very dreadful to sit through, with lots of anxiety and anticipation, but it was successful for both her and her daddy. We were overwhelmed, anxious. We had a lack of appetite, [were] tired and restless. But for some gracious reason we remained positive throughout the entire procedure without a doubt of any mishap,” she recalled.
“Faith and patience brought us through. With such proudness knowing Nicholas was giving her life, not once but twice, we felt extremely proud of him and this was the darkest time of our lives, but we still saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Overall it was an out-of-body experience. One might say it felt like a scene from a movie, but it was our reality, and we had no choice but to face it,” Francis said.
She showered medical teams from UHWI and Bustamante Hospital with praises.
“We are very grateful for the team that performed the surgery, the entire medical staff at both UHWI and Bustamante Hospital, the general public who took time out to listen to her story and donated to her cause, prayer teams for their graceful prayers, churches, schools, companies, and individuals who contributed to this successful journey.
“We, the family members, are very grateful. The outlook on life is so different for us, and DJ now has another chance to live her life. Words can’t express how grateful we are. In Jesus’s name, just thanks… a million thanks.”
Meanwhile, Harris, who is currently experiencing severe pain, maintained that he had no choice.
“I sat down and signed those papers to go in, knowing that I may not come back out, or may not come back out okay. My daughter was suffering for quite some time and it is not an easy thing to see someone you used to hold in your hands in pain and suffering like that. She has been suffering for over a year. So, I just had to make the decision,” he told the Sunday Observer.
“The pain that I am feeling is excruciating. It is extreme. But I am just hoping that it wasn’t for nothing. I am just hoping to save her life at this point. If this is what I have to do to give her a chance, that’s it.”
Harris added that the support offered to his family was remarkable and heartwarming.
“I have to thank the Observer. I have to thank several schools that supported. DJ went to Wolmer’s and then Old Harbour High, and both schools got donations for us. I teach at Kingston Technical [High School] and there was support there as well. Many churches too… I can’t remember all the names, but they called and prayed with us. And the doctors are the real avengers. If I become the richest man in the world tomorrow, I still wouldn’t have enough to thank them,” he said.