Harrison’s Journey to the Lab

At age 14, Harrison was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin lymphoma. A freshman in high school at the time, Harrison endured five rounds of chemotherapy and 14 radiation treatments.

Despite months of difficult treatment throughout the summer and fall of 2016, Harrison’s cancer returned in the spring of 2017.

“I never expected to be diagnosed with cancer once in my lifetime, let alone twice,” – Harrison shares, shaking his head.

Harrison’s hematologist/oncologist, Erika Friehling, MD, started him on an experimental immunotherapy clinical trial. Unfortunately, it failed to work. Disappointed but undeterred, Dr. Friehling recommended an autologous stem cell transplant, wherein Harrison’s own stem cells would be harvested, filtered, and transplanted back into his body to fight off the cancer.

In the summer of 2017 — a year after his initial cancer diagnosis — Harrison was readmitted to UPMC Children’s. After several weeks in the hospital and a successful autologous stem cell transplant, Harrison was once again discharged home, receiving follow-up care over the next few months.

The Lowest Point

In February 2018, a routine scan revealed a spot near Harrison’s bronchial tubes. Several months later, physicians confirmed that the cancer had returned once again.

“That news blew me away. I was devastated. I really was.” He takes a deep breath and clasps his hands together on the table. “Yeah, uh,” he looks up, his blue eyes glassy. “That had to be my lowest point.”

In August 2018, Harrison was readmitted to UPMC Children’s for an allogeneic stem cell transplant — this time, with cells harvested from a donor. Thankfully, the transplant was a success for Harrison, with relatively limited complications.

Several months after the procedure, 16-year-old Harrison was finally deemed cancer free.

Paying it Forward

In the fall of 2022 — more than six years after his initial cancer diagnosis — Harrison was back at UPMC Children’s main campus. This time, he was not there for treatment but as a speaker celebrating a transformational gift from the Mario Lemieux Foundation.

Harrison joined the Lemieux family, hospital and Foundation leadership, and a community of supporters to announce the establishment of the Mario Lemieux Institute for Pediatric Cancer Research.

“I couldn’t be more thankful to everyone who got me here,” Harrison shared during the event. “The Lemieux Institute will undoubtedly give rise to better treatment and cures for kids like me. It’s an honor to be a part of it.”


Related: Celebrating One Year: The Mario Lemieux Institute for Pediatric Cancer Research

Lifting the Burden

Today, Harrison remains cancer-free. He studies molecular biology at the University of Pittsburgh’s Honors College. Rather than steer clear of the hospital that was essentially his second home during high school, Harrison has made UPMC Children’s a central part of his life.

He worked in patient care as a volunteer at the hospital, as a research assistant in the Byersdorfer Lab within the Division of Blood and Marrow Transplantation and Cellular Therapies, and currently serves as a medical assistant at UPMC Children’s South.

“I don’t know, maybe it sounds a little cliché,” he says, his eyebrows raised slightly, “but I want to be a physician and follow in the footsteps of those who treated me.” He pauses again, thinking carefully about what to say next.

“I’d like to give back to the medical community to which I owe my life.”


Read Harrison’s full story in our Community Report.


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