All Stories

Julie Harris – Donor

As a nurse Janet Harris, a Franklin County resident, has been in many intensive care units over the years but this time it was different.  This time it was her sister, Julie, lying in the bed.

“My sister appeared healthy by all outward appearances and was living a normal suburban life.  Then one day in 1992 she was sitting in the living room with our mother and had a grand mal seizure and went into a coma for 3 days.  She was only 37 years old.”

Unbeknownst to Julie and her family she was born with a malformation of arteries and veins in her brain that was nothing short of a ticking time bomb.  Because of the size of the malformation and where it was located Julie was not eligible for surgery.  Luckily she survived the first attack and was placed on medication in an attempt to control the seizures and she was able to return to her everyday life.

“Julie did relatively fine for about 10 years despite having a few seizures.  In 2002 she underwent a type of radiation treatment to try and shrink the swelling malformation.   Her symptoms improved although she experienced intermittent headaches.”

In 2005 Janet saw her sister for the last time at Christmas where she appeared fine despite her worsening condition. Then several weeks later in January 2006 Janet got the phone call that her sister was in the intensive care unit and on mechanical support.

“The malformation had finally ruptured and despite surgery she had minimal brain activity and was on a ventilator.  Over the next two weeks her condition worsened with no chance of recovery.  As a family we had to make a decision.”

The Harris family decided to remove Julie’s mechanical support and allow her the dignity of a natural death.  Since Julie had expressed her wishes to be an organ donor several years earlier they also consented to donation. 

Janet said Julie’s exact words were, “If I die let them take whatever they can use. I can’t use it upstairs.”  Julie was able to donate her liver and kidneys and save 3 people’s lives.

“Through the organ procurement organization we received letters from two of the recipients”, Janet recalled. “One man received a kidney after being on dialysis for 8 years.  He was so grateful because he never thought he would live to see his 4 grandkids grow up or enjoy retirement with his family.”

“The other recipient received a liver transplant.  She was a young wife and mother of two boys, 8 and 11 years old, who had a rare type of cancer.  Now because of the transplant she is well enough to watch her sons grow up, play sports and she can sing in her church choir.  Because of Julie’s donation they each have been given a second chance at life.”

Both recipients were aware that in order to make such a gift the Harris family had to show incredible strength and courage in the face of losing their loved one.  They both hoped their donor family would find comfort in knowing the good that had come of their donation.   

 “When  I  first got the  recipients letters all I could do was cry.  Knowing that Julie helped 3 people and that some good was able to come from this tragedy was a great comfort.  I felt the best I had in a long time.”

For more information about organ donation, visit or call 800-525-3456.