MERRIMAC — Keith Harris will spend his summer in a much different way than other people. He won’t be visiting the beach or hanging out at backyard barbecues. He’ll be spending much of it alone -- and he’s grateful for that.
On June 7, Harris, 49, will begin a 4,400 mile trip across the country -- on his bicycle. The Merrimac resident is “Pedaling for a Purpose,” as he’s dubbed his adventure: he’s raising money for The Rotary Foundation and Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport.
For Harris, his trip is the culmination of a “mid-life wake-up call” following a serious health scare several years ago.
In 2008, Harris and his wife Christina, the owners of Choice Graphics printing company in Rowley, were living in downtown Newburyport when their lives changed forever. It all started simply enough. Harris was playing in a softball game, and got a scratch, which he chalked up to a routine, minor part of playing sports. Only, it ended up being anything but that.
Harris developed a staph infection, which traveled into his heart, and destroyed his mitral valve. When he arrived at the emergency room at Anna Jaques with a 104-degree temperature, Harris had gone into organ failure. He was dying.
His team of physicians at the Newburyport hospital were able to stabilize him and Harris was transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston where he underwent open heart surgery, followed by months of recovery.
During his stay in Boston, and his recovery period, Harris says he was lucky to have “an immense outpouring of support” from family and friends. Without that support, he and his wife couldn’t have made it through the harrowing experience, he said. But, for many of his fellow patients, that was the case as they faced their serious illnesses alone.