From painful to picturesque

Youths affected by kidney disease create artwork for calendar

October 06, 2006|By SUSAN GVOZDAS | SUSAN GVOZDAS,Special to The Sun

Zachary Harriss had a kidney transplant when he was 2 years old. With his seventh birthday approaching on Monday, he has two things to celebrate: life and a winning entry in the American Kidney Fund's art contest.

Next weekend, the fund will fete Zachary of Glen Burnie, Iesha Wyatt of Baltimore and 11 other children and their families with a tour of Washington, including a stop at the White House, and two celebratory dinners.

The winning artwork will be used to illustrate the fund's 2007 "Kid"ney Calendar, which is distributed as a thank-you gift to donors and sold for $6.

As many as 100,000 people will see Zachary's drawing for June, a portrait of him and another young transplant patient playing outside among flowers and butterflies. Iesha's family portrait will be used for November.

Zachary has a rare genetic condition, branchio oto-renal syndrome, which caused him to be born with only a small piece of a kidney. That piece failed to function after six months, forcing Zachary to receive daily dialysis treatment until his blood vessels were big enough to support a transplanted kidney from his mother, Pamela Harriss.

The disease caused other problems for Zachary. Doctors had to insert a shunt into his brain because the fluid that cushions the brain was not draining properly. The illness also caused some hearing loss and acid reflux so severe that Zachary relied on a feeding tube until six months ago.

Zachary faces more health problems. Transplanted kidneys usually last 12 to 18 years. The second-grader at Richard Henry Lee Elementary School takes 13 pills a day to prevent his immune system from rejecting his kidney.

"Every day you worry if everything is OK," Pamela Harriss said. "In my eyes, it's good that he's being acknowledged for all that he's been through."

Despite the problems, Harriss describes Zachary as a "happy-go-lucky kid" who loves the Baltimore Ravens.

Kidney failure is rare in children. About 5,000 children in the U.S. have had kidney transplants, according to the fund. An additional 2,500 children are on dialysis. The fund provides financial assistance to kidney patients for uninsured medical expenses and health insurance premiums. In 2005, the organization distributed $63.5 million in grants and helped more than 62,000 patients.

The fund's employees selected the calendar winners from 150 entries. Employees liked the hope and happiness expressed in Zachary's drawing, "A Nice Spring Day," Ruggiero said. He was the youngest entrant in the contest.

One of the nurses at Johns Hopkins Hospital told Zachary about the calendar contest at his five-year transplant reunion this year.

An aspiring astronaut, he has his heart set on visiting the National Air and Space Museum next weekend. The usually outgoing boy could not muster more than a few words to describe his feelings about being in the calendar. "Happy and glad," Zachary said.

Iesha's family portrait also touched judges. Iesha, 15, found out when she was 12 that she had lupus, a chronic disease that causes the body's immune system to attack tissues and organs. It left her with 60 percent of her kidney function. With medication, she has been able to regain her strength and is less lethargic, she said.

Iesha jumped out of her chair when she found out that her colored-pencil drawing had won a spot in the calendar, said her mother, Jacqueline Hilliard. Although Iesha loves to paint, Hilliard had to push her daughter to enter the contest when they received an entry form from University of Maryland Medical Center.

The drawing shows Hilliard, Iesha and her 14-year-old brother, Tazon Wyatt, sitting on the couch in their living room.

Iesha says she wants to be a nurse and focuses on her schoolwork at the Academy for College and Career Exploration.

"I'm trying to stay on that path," Iesha said. "That's why I'm listening to my mother, because she knows what's best for me."

The calendars can be ordered by calling 800-638-8299 or by visiting www.kidneyfund.org.

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