Ashland High instructor Kris Prusko hopes a new website and social media campaign will help find a desperately needed liver donor
By Paul R. Huard for Ashland.news
Kris Prusko, 51, the digital arts and photography teacher at Ashland High School, would much rather devote his time and energy to teaching students his craft, or be screen-printing T-shirts worn by Ashland elementary school students during Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration marches.
Instead, he faces a race against the clock. His life is at stake.
In February 2021, Prusko was diagnosed with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a hereditary condition that caused cirrhosis of his liver. The organ is gradually failing, and the only cure is a liver transplant.
But finding compatible liver tissue from a deceased donor could take up to 10 years because of the existing waiting list. Ironically, the only factor that might decrease his wait time is Prusko becoming even more ill and in imminent threat of death.
The solution: Find a living donor who would be willing to share a portion of the vital organ with Prusko, bypassing the wait time and the requirement that he reach a level of sickness that could be a point of no return.
Under ideal circumstances, liver tissue once transplanted from a compatible living donor would grow to replace his own organ in about eight weeks. If he doesn’t find a donor soon, Prusko could eventually die from the disease.
But a group of friends are mounting an online and traditional media campaign to help Prusko find a donor. The cornerstone of the effort is a Web site whose address says it all: aLiverForKris.org.
The site has information about Prusko and his family, requirements to be a living liver donor, and information about contacting the University of Washington Medical Center, which is coordinating his transplant efforts.
“Livers are hard to come by,” Prusko said during an interview in his classroom, where he continues to work while dealing with the day-to-day effects of his disease. “I know — my wife and I did a lot of research on living donors.”
Even with his life in the balance, asking for help has been difficult, Prusko said. He and his family contacted family and friends, even appealing for a donor through social media such as Facebook and Instagram.
“I was advised to reach out even further. I am torn by all of this, that I have to put people out,” Prusko said. “I am grateful for the community and its support, but when I see the pain and suffering of other people, I don’t feel like I deserve the help. I have to get over that.”
Friends rallied to his aid, pointing out that Prusko had a better chance to find a living donor if he mounted a wide-spread search using online tools.
“I think it is important for anyone going through medical trauma to have a team behind them,” said Trish Dorr, a fourth-grade teacher at Helman Elementary School and one of Prusko’s support team. “Having people in your corner, advocates who can help carry load, is priceless.”
Dorr knows from experience. In 2013, Dorr’s son Jack was diagnosed with an aggressive astrocytoma brain tumor on his spine. He was 8 years old.
Jack endured surgery, radiation treatments, and chemotherapy during his struggle with cancer. On May 16, 2014, he died from the disease at the age of 10.
“I had a team of people who supported me and my family during Jack’s illness,” Dorr said. “It was a big load. The team helped carry it.”
Several others are helping Prusko as well. They include Shane Abrams, a former humanities teacher at Ashland High School, who provided the initial design for the website, and spouse Linnea Wilhjelm, a digital media and web designer, who crafts much of the message that will be sent out on various social media platforms and to news media, Dorr said.
They even have a motto for their campaign: “Type O for Prusko,” a reference to the blood type a compatible donor must have.
“Maybe we can put that on a T-shirt,” Dorr said.
Prusko said he is grateful not only to his friends, but also school district administration and high school Principal Ben Bell for their support and understanding.
He deals with chronic exhaustion daily but continues to love teaching students and interacting with them.
His greatest source of strength is family — Prusko called his wife Lise, son Elek, and daughter Ayla “my rocks” that he relies on because of their love and strength.
When it comes to coping, Prusko said his reasons are simple.
“I have to carry on,” he said. “I want to be there for them.”
Email freelance reporter Paul R. Huard at firstname.lastname@example.org.