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LAYTON — A man who cheated death three times is now paying a price for his cure.
Reed Harris was featured on KSL's Medical Miracles series back in 1995. Now at age 35, he's facing what may be the bizarre aftermath of his healing.
Harris grew up in Grace, Idaho. Hills and clouds in that part of the country blended together like a painting, and there on his horse on his family's land, then-17-year-old Harris held on to a dream even while in the throes of death.
Not once, but three different times.
"I looked up and sat up and told (mother), ‘I'm not going to die,'" he said. "She said, ‘Why not?' and said ‘I don't know, but I'm just not going to die yet.' "
Harris battled cancer twice — once as a child and again as a teen. As if the cancers were not enough, Reed was treated at Primary Children's Medical Center 21 years ago for a rare fungus infection.
At one point surgeons were prepared to remove half his face to stop the fungus from spreading. Instead, doctors tried an experimental compound mixed with lipid or fat particles. It was the first time they had used such a mixture on any youngster in the western United States.
Like the two cancers, the deadly, tissue-eating fungus was killed and Harris survived yet again.
Life, it will get better. It can always get better.
"Miracle that the drug was available," Dr. John Christenson with Primary Children's told KSL in 1996. "Miracle that there were people willing to use it, and a miracle he was willing to try it."
In everyone's definition, this Idaho teenager was a miracle kid. Even the town's name of Grace was symbolic of his story.
Now, at age 35, Harris is living in Layton.
"Life is still good," he said. "I have three beautiful children that I wasn't supposed to have. I have a wonderful, wonderful wife."
But all is not well. Because of combined radiation and chemotherapy, Reed is now paying a price for his cure.
He has a heart problem most likely related to a chemo drug that was used back then. He's also having his decaying teeth removed.
While not all physicians agree, researchers like those at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center said heavy radiation therapy to the neck and head — like the kind to which Harris was exposed — can affect the management and care of teeth for years after radiation therapy is completed.
For now, temporary artificial teeth hide the damage.
"To be honest, my teeth looked like I was a meth addict," Harris said. "They were rotten. They were black."
Harris wants tooth implants for a permanent repair, but his health insurance won't pay.
"It is frustrating to get that denial, that they're not going to pay anything, that you have to go through your dental insurance and dental insurance doesn't cover very much," said Harris' wife Brandee.
The Harris family would have to shell out $20,000 for the procedures, and they're trying to raise money to do just that. A fund* has been set up at Horizon Credit Union to help the Harris family meet their goal.
But through it all, Harris remains positive.
"The doctors were great," Harris said. "They did what they had to do. I honestly believe if it wasn't for the great doctors and the care they did, I would have died."
If heart and teeth are the long-term price to pay for those earlier cures, he said he'll deal with them now as well. That optimism — visible so many years ago — still lingers.
"Life, it will get better," he said. "It can always get better."
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