Couple raising money for kidney transplant

The love story brewed at Starbucks.

Michael Grant was a shift supervisor at the store on Bradley Park, and Shelby Harrell a barista.

They shared a love for biology, and Harrell was drawn to Grant's life-long battle with kidney failure. One of the first things she noticed was the bulging fistula on his arm, the result of a surgical procedure that prepared his vein for dialysis. Most people thought it was weird, which made Grant self-conscious. But Harrell found it intriguing.

"Right away people were like, 'Look at this, look at his arm,'" Harrell said. "And I was the only one there who was like, 'That's so cool. That's awesome. How does that work?'"

From there, Grant, now 28, and Harrell, 23, became friends, and now they are engaged to be married.

But they're also preoccupied with finding Grant a kidney, and raising $10,000 for the surgery.

Three months ago, the couple started a Go Fund Me web page to tell Grant's story and solicit donations. So far they've raised $2,690. The Georgia Transplant Foundation has set up an account for the donations and will match up to $10,000, Grant said. However, the couple said they'll need more than that to cover their expenses. Grant, who has already had two kidney transplants, said his surgery will cost almost $1 million, not to mention all the trips he'll have to make to Emory for treatment and the cost of medication.

"My insurance company should cover most of it, but with that high of a price tag, covering 80 percent still leaves me with a lot of extra medical bills," he said. "There's a lot of lost income that this will help offset."

Grant's health problems began in his mother's womb, with a blockage to his kidneys that prevented urine from exiting his bladder, the couple said. The urine backed up into his kidneys, which completely destroyed his left kidney and slightly damaged the one on his right side. As a newborn, he underwent several surgeries and was left with only a partial functioning kidney.

Growing up in Newnan, Ga., Grant said, he tried living a normal life, going to school, hanging out with friends and participating in church activities. But he had to make regular trips to Emory, and was placed on a zero sodium and no fat diet. Doctors also restricted his activities.

At 15, Grant's family moved to Yorba Linda, Calif., where a nephrologist decided he needed a transplant. His mother donated her kidney, but after being transplanted, it flipped and stopped working. A year later, Grant received a second transplant, which worked for several years.

However, in the summer of 2010, Grant had another medical crisis. He was 24, still living in California, and studying molecular biology at California State University at Fullerton. He suddenly became ill and had to have his gallbladder removed. Doctors discovered then that his body was rejecting the transplanted kidney, and he was forced to begin dialysis.

Grant's parents had already moved back to Newnan, so in 2011 he came back home. He still gets dialysis three days a week for three hours at Fresenius Medical Care River City on Brookstone Centre Parkway. His nephrologist is Dr. Saeed Zafar, at the Kidney and Hypertension Association on Wynnton Road.

Grant now has a bachelor's degree in molecular biology. Harrell said when she met him, she found his knowledge appealing.

"He had books and books on biology, and I just took them in," she said. "It was a similarity that we shared, and an interest and hobby that we loved."

Grant proposed to Harrell on May 28. They were in Panama City, Fla., sitting on a jetty. He was interrupted several times, but finally got on his knees and popped the question just as the sun was setting.

"I was like, 'Oh, my God, yes,'" Harrell said.

"And right after that dolphins began jumping out of the water," Grant added. "It couldn't have been more perfect."

Harrell said she's always been a little bit more mature than others her age, and it just felt right.

"I just go with my gut," she said. "He wants everything that I want, and his goals are what mine's are. And we have the support of my family. My mom is all for it, my sisters love him. It's just perfect."

But it hasn't been easy dealing with Grant's medical condition, the couple said.

"We have to center our lives around my dialysis and are not able to do as many things, especially for our honeymoon," Grant said. "We can't go out of the country because my insurance only covers stuff from the U.S. It pretty much keeps me locked down. I try to have as much freedom as I can. But the bottom line is I still have to schedule time around dialysis."

The couple will also have to schedule the wedding for a day when Grant doesn't have the procedure to make sure he's feeling well.

"Nine times out of 10 throughout the week, I'm fine. But I do have problems with side-effects like really bad cramps," he said.

"I have to watch my fluid intake. I can only drink 32 ounces of fluid a day because I can't urinate at all. I don't have any kidney function. It just sits until I get dialysis."

He said sometimes it affects his personality. He gets short-tempered and is disturbed by little noises.

"Yeah, you can tell," Harrell said. "He's usually very optimistic. And when he changes, he just flips and gets mad. I know it's dialysis, but it's still hard. And then there are sometimes if he's had too much fluid over that long stretch of the weekend, he has to sit up so the fluid doesn't back up into his lungs. He'll literally start choking, and I have to sit him up."

She said her mother worked as a nurse for 35 years and helped prepare her for this period in her life.

"So, if things go wrong, I don't freak out. I don't say 'I don't know what to do, so let's go the hospital,'" she said. "I stay a little more calm, which helps the situation."

Grant now works part-time so he doesn't exert too much energy. He and Harrell have support from both parents and siblings. They plan to marry in June, and hope to move to California one day so Harrell can study marine biology.

They're just waiting for a transplant.

"Now, because I've had two transplants my body has built up such immunity that I can't be matched with 99 percent of the population," Grant said.

Harrell said there are five people currently being tested to see if they will match -- she, her brother, a resident at their apartment complex and another individual.

"We're hopeful that his blood will mix well with ours," she said.

Others who want to get tested can call 404-727-8466, and donations for the surgery can be made at http://www.gofundme.com/7zszhs.

Grant said the money will remain in the Georgia Transplant Foundation account until a match is found.

Grant said he's blessed to have Harrell in his life, and hope they have many more years together.

"I always knew I deserved somebody that was strong enough to handle all sorts of stuff because I have a whole lot going on," he said. "Just how selfless she is with me, I just knew I couldn't let that go."