Niagara Gazette

Features

April 14, 2014

Vet wins 'life lottery' with new kidney

Niagara Falls veteran has second chance with new kidney

Niagara Gazette — On a recent weekday afternoon, two Niagara Falls brothers were picked up by a limousine and whisked to a nearby airport runway where a private plane was waiting to fly them to Pittsburgh, courtesy of the U.S. Veterans Administration.

Shortly after take-off, the brothers peered out the window of the plane, from which they were able to see Niagara Falls from the air. The younger brother was awestruck by the aerial view of the very same river they used to skip rocks upon when they were boys growing up on East Falls Street.

“I told my brother on the plane that ‘The VA takes really good care of you guys in the military,’ “ said Greg Harris, who was accompanying his oldest brother for support on the journey.

The high-speed transportation had been organized to care for Willie James Harris Jr., a former soldier, but it was nothing compared to what came next — the procurement of a new kidney and a new life for Willie James.

There were only minutes to spare for everything to go as planned, so the eldest Harris brother (who goes by James), could get to the Veterans Administration’s medical center in Pittsburgh to take possession of a new kidney that would change his life. He had already been disappointed once on a previous visit. This time, however, everything went as planned and a kidney — donated by a 29-year-old killed in a car accident — was successfully transplanted.

That’s exactly how the Veteran’s Administration means for such an experience to go — planned with military precision, said the woman who is a first responder when organs become available for area vets. 

Karen Conway is the transplant coordinator at the VA WNY Healthcare system.  She’s the one who takes the call when an organ donor has died. It is her job to respond quickly as time is always of the essence. 

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