Chase Harrison

Chase Harrison says family support, faith keep him going

Longtime local resident and outdoor enthusiast Chase Harrison is racing time to find a living kidney donor.

Harrison’s situation was outlined in a recent news release from the Chris Klug Foundation, an Aspen nonprofit dedicated to promoting lifesaving organ and tissue donation and improving the quality of life for those affected by such donations.

Last week, the foundation’s program manager, Cecille Cunningham, provided transcripts from her interview with Harrison in which he recalled his life’s journey from Georgia to the Colorado Rockies, and ultimately to Aspen. He also spoke about the discovery that his kidneys were failing and his outlook on the ordeal.

“I’ve definitely had bouts of uncertainty here and there, but I’m just taking it one day at a time,” Harrison said in the release. “I have a wonderful support group, which helps a lot. My family is incredibly close and I’m so blessed to have them to fall back on. They’ll always have my back, no matter what — that’s the way I was raised.”

Harrison, who is in his 50s, is on the slow-moving waiting list for a kidney transplant but would be grateful for a living donor. At the same time, he is promoting awareness of the dire need for living donors, the release says.

As a youth growing up in the South, he was introduced to Colorado through family vacations. He “completely fell in love” with skiing, and remembers telling his father, “I’m going to live here someday.”

He said he became an adventure athlete during high school, and as a Boy Scout would attend summer mountain camps in North Carolina. After graduating from an outdoor leadership school in the early 1980s, he was motivated to move to Colorado — and soon after, discovered Aspen.

“After just one winter in Colorado, I packed up my crappy car, moved to Aspen and the rest is pretty much history,” he said.

In the upper Roaring Fork Valley, Harrison became a guide for outdoor trips and also a volunteer firefighter. Six years ago, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

“And that’s when all this stuff with my kidneys started,” he said.

But Harrison said the situation really took a turn last spring when he took a monthlong trip to Ecuador, even visiting the Galapagos Islands for 10 days. He doesn’t regret it, but upon returning home, he began to feel horribly sick.

Around Memorial Day, barely able to talk to his parents because of his condition, he went to the Aspen Valley Hospital emergency room. He had lost a lot of weight and was extremely dehydrated, and the doctors told him his kidneys were failing.

Soon, he said, he was sent to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction, where he spent more than two weeks. He was released, but on a subsequent visit to St. Mary’s, he was informed that he needed a kidney transplant.

Although he is stable for now, “sooner or later, my kidneys are going to go,” Harrison said.

He’s been visiting UCHealth Medical Center in Denver to be set up with a transplant coordinator and to undergo a battery of tests to determine his status on the waitlist.

“It didn’t take me long to learn what the actual time frame was for a person on the waitlist — you could be on there for years,” Harrison said. “I also learned, however, that if you have a living donor, it speeds up the process immensely, and you can receive your transplant in a much shorter amount of time.”

Harrison said his brother’s ordeal with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome — a disease that affects the body’s connective tissue — has kept him grounded and optimistic. He also attributes a lot of his optimism and positivity to faith in a higher power.

In the meantime, he is doing many of the things he would normally do.

“I’m still riding my bike and doing the things I enjoy, the things that I’m passionate about and will always be passionate about,” Harrison said.

Obviously, he said, he can no longer go to the athletic extremes to which he had become accustomed. Finding a living donor is his most important “summit” now, he added.

Donor stories are published on the foundation’s website, chrisklugfoundation.org, and shared on social media. For more information about Harrison or the foundation, call 203-444-7494 or visit the aforementioned website.