Republicans cross party lines for transplant patient

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans


The elephants are coming to the aid of a donkey in his time of need.

Clayton County Republicans are putting political differences aside to raise money to help Morrow resident Vernon Harris pay for medical costs associated with a heart transplant that he needs to survive. Harris is a staunch Democrat, according to his Republican next-door neighbor John Marxen, who is overseeing the fund-raising effort for the local GOP chapter.

"I'm always trying to talk to him about Republican ideals, and he's so Democrat, he can't think of anything else," Marxen said. "The other Republicans know he's a Democrat, and they said that's not the important part ... As people, we need to help the people that need help."

Marxen said the Clayton County Republican Party is scheduled to host a fund-raising booth at the City of Morrow's Freedomfest event, which will be held on Saturday, from 5 p.m., to 10 p.m., at the Old Kilby House, at 5917 Reynolds Road, in Morrow.

The local Republicans will sell cotton candy, corn-on-the-cob dipped in butter, and bottles of water, as well as hold a raffle at Freedomfest to help raise money to offset the cost of medications Harris will have to take once he receives a heart transplant. "We're hoping we sell out of everything we have," Marxen said. "Then, we can give him a nice check."

Harris, 44, and his wife, Diane, have five children and four grandchildren. A big smile came across Harris' face when he talked about how well his youngest child, Aaliyah, is doing as a student at Morrow High School. "She just got her report card, and she did real good -- all A's and B's," he proudly proclaimed.

Harris said he had a stroke 10 years ago, has an enlarged heart, and suffers from congestive heart failure. The money that is being raised goes into a Georgia Transplant Foundation account, that has been set up in Harris' name, according to Marxen.

Harris said he went on a heart transplant list last September, and is currently listed at "1B" status, which means he is behind people who are severely ill and need a heart transplant. He is still waiting for the right heart to become available.

Harris said doctors have told him the post-transplant operation medications could cost up to $25,000. He will have to take one of the medications, to keep his body from rejecting his eventual new heart, for the rest of his life after the operation, he said. The cost of medications comes on top of the $200,000, to $300,000 he said it will cost to have the transplant operation.

He said the Georgia Transplant Center requires the heart that he gets must be healthy, match his blood type (B-negative), be from someone with a body similar to his in size, and be close to the size of his own heart.

"I get so done sometimes because it's taken so long, but I also get down about the fact that, in effect, someone has to lose their life for me to get a new heart," Harris said.

He had a pacemaker installed in 2005, and has to wear a left ventricular-assisted device, also known as an LVAD, to have the strength to move around his house. "I'm in good company with [former Republican U.S. Vice-President] Dick Cheney, because he has one of these as well," Harris said.

Harris' neighbor and friend, John Marxen said he only joined the county's Republican Party earlier this year, but he began raising money for Harris last year. He said he sold hot chocolate at Morrow's Christmas in the Park event last December, and the Republican Party had a fundraising booth at the Taste of Clayton event, in Jonesboro, in April. So far, he said, approximately $4,200 has been raised to help Harris pay for his medications.

Marxen also said a group of new members in the Clayton County Republican Party came together earlier this year to come up with a list of potential community outreach activities in which the political party could get involved. He said he brought Harris' situation to the party's attention at that time.

"They said 'bring ideas for us to do,' so I went, and told them about Vernon's situation," Marxen said. "A young member, who is a student at Clayton State [University] said 'let's do that first,' and everybody was in agreement."

Harris brushed off the political differences between himself and Marxen, who has been his neighbor for 15 years, as no big deal. Marxen, and his wife Vickie, are the godparents of one of Harris' grandchildren. "We agree to disagree," Harris said. "We just go at it all the time [over politics]. He gives me his opinion, and I give him mine ... To me, it doesn't matter what party you belong to, because people are first."

Marxen said people who attend Freedomfest can find the Clayton County Republican Party's booth midway across the field where the event will be taking place. Freedomfest is a free-to-attend event.