“Because Harrison was born to people of privilege, in this country, at this time in history he is surrounded with social scaffolding built to give him every chance of not only surviving, but thriving.”
On December 4, my son Harrison and I will head into hospital and he’ll receive my kidney in a transplant operation. It’ll be my first major operation and Harrison’s 13th.
There is nothing that has made me more aware of my own privilege than the journey to this big moment in Harrison’s life.
When my wife Rachel and I went to our first pregnancy ultra sound, we discovered our son had a “lower mesodermal defect” that meant all of the amniotic fluid that should have been filling Rachel’s womb was instead trapped inside his bladder, damaging the development of muscles, organs and various body parts. Doctors told us there was no hope of survival, but, after some encouragement, suggested a procedure that would, in their words, increase his chance of life from 0% to 1%.
We determined that we didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives wondering “what if?” and went ahead with the surgery.
The months between that day and the birth of our son were a roller-coaster of emotion. Terminating the pregnancy was suggested repeatedly, and once the possibility of making that choice had passed, were told to “prepare for a birth and then a funeral.” Scans showed that Harrison’s lungs were tiny and plastinated, that his kidneys were almost entirely absent and a range of other defects.
When Harrison was born – breech, not breathing and with other physical deformities not revealed by ultra sound – he was surrounded by more doctors and nurses than I can remember. A tube was quickly pushed down his throat and, astoundingly, his tiny lungs inflated. Harrison was alive – and whisked off for emergency surgery to see if it was possible to keep him that way.
We spent a month in hospital – intensive care and other wards – and each day of Harrison’s life came as a fresh surprise to doctors and other staff. When we were finally told to take Harrison home it was to care for him until he passed away in the near future. Doctors believed his kidney function wouldn’t sustain him until he was big enough for dialysis or a transplant.
Eight years – and 12 surgeries – later and Harrison is not only alive, but throws himself into every day with a ferocity that inspires me to do the same. For all of these years, hospitals have been a second home; medical and practical support has been provided to make his education as smooth as possible and his daily medication and other health needs are almost entirely covered by Medicare and other government-funded programs.
When his kidney function finally dropped to levels requiring greater intervention, Harrison began dialysis three days a week. At the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, he’s surrounded by a team of the most brilliant doctors, the friendliest nurses and other staff – and loves the Starlight Room and all it’s excellent Captains.
Between hospital visits, Kidney Health Australia organises fun activities for kids suffering from kidney issues and their families.
And next Friday, we’ll go into the hospital confident of not only being in the hands of some of the world’s best surgeons, but knowing we’ll all be looked after during our recovery, that we won’t have the stress of gigantic medical bills to repay and that for the rest of our lives a whole medical system are dedicated to keeping us healthy.
From beginning to end, this is a story of undeserved privilege.
Had this story begun in the village I visit annually in Cambodia, where stateless Vietnamese people reside without citizenship, work or property rights, it wouldn’t have progressed past Rachel having an inexplicably unhealthy pregnancy and a still-born child.
The eight years we’ve had of Harrison’s intense, hilarious and intelligent life wouldn’t have been possible if we’d been a Rohingya family escaping persecution in Myanmar.
If we’d been middle-class Syrians when war arrived, perhaps we’d have been forced to flee and missed out on life-saving surgery or the opportunity for dialysis.
Because Harrison was born to people of privilege, in this country, at this time in history he is surrounded with social scaffolding built to give him every chance of not only surviving, but thriving. The community he was born into is structured to give children like Harrison every opportunity for success. The privilege we were born with gives us free entry to a system that is designed to preserve Harrison’s life and help him achieve his dreams.
Brad discusses the poverty crisis in Cambodia:
While countless people contribute their energy, training and skills to enable Harrison to flourish, other children are not given this kind of value.
Two weeks ago I stood with the Hazara community of Adelaide as they mourned the beheading of nine-year-old Shukria Tabussum. Australia still locks up children and their families who have come to us for protection. There are nearly 170 million child labourers in the world today – over 70 million in our own region.
When you become aware of the advantage you have only because you were born a white, middle-class Australian at this moment in history there are two appropriate responses that make sense to me.
Firstly, a deep sense of wonder and gratitude that causes you to make the most of every moment and take nothing for granted. Every day with my son – every smile and every adventure – is an unmerited gift to savour.
Secondly, a determination to use the privilege that you have for the sake of others. A choice not to hoard your wealth, opportunity, platform and influence as though you are entitled to them, but to use them wherever possible to create a more equal, fairer world and society.
There are, of course, countless ways to do contribute your privilege to the cause of a better future for all people. We’re throwing a pre-transplant party to raise money for Kidney Health Australia and we’d love you to help. Our nation is cutting billions of dollars from helping children like those I mentioned in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Myanmar – write to the Prime Minister here and ask him to invest in their future like we invest in Harrison’s. Join the Welcome to Australia movement and help cultivate a culture of welcome for asylum seekers, refugees and other new arrivals.
Whatever you choose to do – take this moment to reflect on your privilege and how you might employ it in the service of those who’ve found themselves in very different circumstances to your own.
To help more kids like Harrison, you can donate to Kidney Health Australia here.