Our friend Tracy Harris, a favorite on the Arkansas State Golf Association circuit for more than 30 years now, needs our help.
Harris, who will turn 58 in August, was recently diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and is being evaluated at UAMS to see whether he is a candidate for a transplant.
“That’s the only thing that will solve it,” he told an old friend Sunday.
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According to www.healthline.com, people who have a liver transplant have an 89% chance of living after one year. The five-year survival rate is 75%.
Harris was the ASGA’s Amateur Player of the Year in 1997, Mid-Senior Player of the Year in 2011, ‘12, ‘14 and ‘16 and Senior Player of the Year in 2018. Other career highlights include state titles for amateur, mid-amateur, mid-senior, public links and state four-ball; Mid-South 4-ball in Laurel, Miss.; Panamanian International Amateur; three USGA state team competitions and two International Team Amateur events in Lima, Peru.
He was to have been inducted into the Arkansas Golf Hall of Fame last fall, but the ceremony was postponed until September because of the covid-19 pandemic.
Full disclosure: This reporter covered golf for the old Arkansas Gazette from 1985 until the newspaper died in 1991 and later as a freelance writer for the Conway Log Cabin Democrat and the old North Little Rock Times and Maumelle Monitor. I’ve walked many a course following him and the other ASGA regulars and have been friends with many of them for years.
So this one is personal.
According to www.myclevelandclinic.org, cirrhosis of the liver affects about one in 400 adults in the country — about one in 200 aged 45 to 54. It causes about 26,000 deaths each year in the U.S. and is the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S. among adults 25 to 64.
Harris was diagnosed with NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis), a type of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. According to www.gethealthystayhealthy.com, the condition occurs “when the fat buildup in the liver leads to inflammation (hepatitis) and scarring.” The website indicates the disease is probably under-diagnosed, but 3% to 5% of the world’s population is estimated to be affected by it.
“I never drank a day in my life; I’ve never smoked, never done drugs,” Harris said.
In April, however, he noticed a loss of appetite.
“I got out of the shower one morning and thought, ‘Man, my old stomach’s big,’ and I hadn’t been eating much of anything,” he said. “I finally got to see my family doctor. Normally I weigh about 230, 232, but that day I weighed 245.”
His platelets were low, so his doctor sent him to an oncologist, who did an ultrasound.
“I said, ‘Feel my stomach,’” Harris remembered. “It was as hard as a rock. He told me I had liver disease.”
Because fluid couldn’t filter through his liver and kidneys, it had backed up into his abdomen. A couple of days later, medical staff drained five liters — the maximum possible. He has now undergone eight such procedures, totaling 40 liters, and is to have another probably five liters drained Friday.
“Last time I had it done, two or three weeks ago, I weighed 215, and when I got through with the procedure I weighed 201,” he said. “I weighed 221 this morning, and I haven’t been eating much — no appetite. My taste buds are terrible.”
He has no family history of the condition, but he said his Type II diabetes probably contributed to the fatty liver.
Obviously, the diagnosis was a shock.
“The first thing you wonder is, ‘Am I going to die?’ he said, choking up. “They finally just told me that the only solution is to have a transplant. They say you’ll be off work for like six months.
“It was scary, and it still is.”
Now that the shock of the diagnosis has worn off a bit, he has been buoyed by hearing the positive results of other liver transplants.
“I’ve talked to two or three people, and they came through with flying colors,” he said. “One person told me, ‘You’ll feel so much better, you won’t believe it.’ And they lead a normal lifestyle. One thing I’ll have to keep doing is to stay on a low-sodium diet.”
UAMS will be his home base throughout the journey. One man told him that his wife had a liver transplant about 10 years ago and had to go to Denver for it.
“She does perfect now,” Harris said.
Also helping him are the calls and texts he’s received from people all over the state.
“To be honest, it’s been a little overwhelming,” he said. “I knew I had a lot of friends and a lot of people that cared about me, but I didn’t know I had that many. They’ve been supporting me, checking on me and praying for me.”
Now he’s in the midst of several weeks of assessments to determine whether he is a good candidate for a transplant. His age and years of physical activity — besides golf, he officiated football and basketball games for a number of years — would seem to bode well for that decision.
According to www.mayoclinic.org, about 8,000 liver transplants were performed in the U.S. in 2017. At the same time, approximately 11,500 people were registered on the waiting list.
Once on the list for a transplant, which would come from a cadaver, Harris will be on call 24/7.
“They tell you to pack a bag and make sure your phone is charged, and no matter what time it rings to answer it even if it says it’s an unknown caller or spam — answer it,” he said. “Then you go and have it done.”
He said blood and body type would determine the match.
“They’re not going to take a liver out of somebody 4-11 who weighs 100 pounds and put it in me, or somebody who’s 6-6 and 400 pounds,” he said.
After the transplant, he would be hospitalized in intensive care for a couple of days and then moved to a room for three to five.
“They’ll get you up and moving,” he said. “Then when you come home, for at least two weeks, you have to have somebody with you 24/7 because they’re afraid of you falling. Then you’ve got to go back to the hospital once a week to make sure that your new liver is being accepted by your body.
“You can’t drive for a while; you’ve got to have somebody to drive you. I’ve got lots of friends to do that, so I think I’ve got that covered.”
Among those friends is Little Rock’s Jay Fox, executive director of the ASGA.
“We have been friends since the mid-1980s,” Fox said. “We’ve played lots of golf together and won a few tournaments, including Mid-South 4-Ball with teams from six states. We traveled to Peru and Colombia to play in tournaments.
“Tracy has a lot of friends who greatly support him, and we will help him get through this. We’re not done playing tournaments yet.”
So what does our friend need now?
“Just thoughts and prayers,” he said. “And if people could be organ donors, that would be great and help save somebody’s life.
There are several ways to register to become an organ, eye and tissue donor. When you renew your driver’s license, you have the option, which registers with the state registry. You can also register online at www.donatelife.net.
Harris has good health insurance through ARHOME, the state’s latest version of the federal Affordable Care Act.
“I’m lucky there,” he said. “I don’t want no money. Everything’s fine there.”
And he is grateful for his job at Hill Logistics in Little Rock and his boss, Jim Hill.
“You can’t believe how supportive they’ve been,” he said.
Now it’s time for the rest of us to help support him, too.