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Harrison Barnett is a delightful young man, all of 4 years old, who has had more than his share of challenges with kidney disease.

Diagnosed at birth, he experienced kidney replacement therapy for the first time at 18 months with home peritoneal dialysis and everything that goes with it for a child: medications, feeding tube, anemia and growth hormone injections make up the short list. Then in 2010, Harrison received a deceased donor kidney transplant just a few days beyond his 2nd birthday. That event was cause for real celebration and anticipation of greater things to come. For a time Harrison and his family were free of the dialysis machine, he was able to get rid of the feeding tube, and he began eating more normally and grew on his own for a bit. Unfortunately the kidney failed, and he had to return to peritoneal dialysis in January 2012.

To say he is an “experienced kidney patient” is an understatement, at the very least.

You have to understand that, throughout all of this, Harrison’s parents, Charlie and Rebecca Barnett, have held tight to one important principle: that Harrison has as much normalcy in his life as possible.

“He’s got to be a regular kid,” they say.

That includes being a big brother to twin sisters Charlie Kate and Cameron, born almost exactly a year after Harrison. Becky might describe their life as crazy normal. She works full time as an elementary school teacher, and Charlie works full time in the furniture business.This experience of having a child with kidney disease has been and continues to be an interesting journey for this family, their friends and community.

During this time they have certainly had challenges, many of which those closest to them may not even be aware of. That’s part of “keeping it normal”. Yet, they readily acknowledge they have been recipients of ongoing love and support from those who share this journey with them. The Barnetts want all of their children to understand and know how to accept graciously these intangible gifts and to understand how to do the same for others in need.

Which is exactly what they did recently when it was birthday time at the Barnett home. Princess cake, Star Wars cake and gifts you might think sound very appropriate for a 4-year-old boy and his 3-year-old sisters.

But it wasn’t about the many gifts with bows and colorful paper, but the gifts that came in envelopes: donations. These were given to Harrison and his sisters to share with other Carolina Kidney Kids at the UNC Kidney Center. Seems this is not a new tradition at the Barnett home, but one they’ve practiced regularly, so much so that Harrison has become very enthusiastic about it. Truth be told, he loves to get snail mail; the follow-up notes advising him of a donation made in his honor is thrilling for him.

This year the task of delivering the donations was one Harrison would not leave to just anyone; he insisted on giving them directly to Dr. Primack himself. Seems he asked his mom daily, “When are we going to see Dr. Primack? Are we going today?” Finally it was time for Harrison’s routine dialysis clinic visit, and most importantly, the delivery of “the kidney checks”. With much pride and overwhelming excitement, he made his delivery in May. Dr. Primack accepted the donations on behalf of UNC Kidney Center’s Carolina Kidney Kids.

Thank you, Barnett family, friends and community for your support of Harrison and the countless other children with kidney disease we work to serve each day. You’ve helped to make more “happy birthdays” for others!

Story by Lynn W. McCoy, RN, CNN

Click here to visit the Carolina Kidney Kids page on Facebook

Harrison Barnett, with his mom and Dr. Primack
Harrison Barnett, with his mom and Dr. Primack