Marcus Harris ’97: Making a difference
Marcus Harris has spent his life staring at death.
The Towson business graduate has cystic
fibrosis, a chronic and fatal disease that attacks the
lungs and digestive systems of as many as 30,000
Americans and 70,000 people worldwide. Mucus
clogs the lungs and pancreas of the disease’s victims, leaving them susceptible to serious infections.
He discovered that his illness was fatal when
he was 8, and in the cruelest of ways. His parents
had recently received the diagnosis and hadn’t yet
told him how severe it was. They broke the news
to their friends, who told their children, who then
told Harris himself.
“It was an absolute shock,” he says. “At the
time, the average life expectancy (of those with
CF) was about 11. I didn’t understand the concept
of ‘average’ yet. I thought 11 was it—the end of
But a funny thing happened. He turned 11 …
and nothing happened. In fact, thanks to advances
in technology, by the time he turned 11, Marcus
discovered that the average CF life expectancy had
risen to 14.
“This has been going on my entire life,” he
says. “I’m 35 now, and this year the average life
expectancy is 37.”
As long as he keeps chasing that barrier, every-
thing will be OK.
Outside of his immediate family, though, no
one in Harris’s life knew about his condition—not
his closest friends growing up, not his girlfriends.
That’s the way he wanted it. It was his burden
and, eventually, his family’s burden.
Then another funny thing happened, and it
changed his life.
A financial planner, Harris worked for a company that was trying to grow in the Maryland
marketplace. In doing so, officials became involved
in a number of local charities.
One night Harris was asked to take his boss’s
place at a board meeting for a local charity.
“Sure,” Harris said. “What organization is it?”
“The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation,” his boss
Harris recalls, “It was such a shock. I was so
paranoid that someone at the meeting would recognize me, because there are only so many people
in Baltimore who have (CF).
Journeys Photo by Kanji Takeno
“But I went, and things
went well. I thought that was
God’s way of telling me to
get out there and do some
work and be an inspiration
for other kids who are going
through what I went through.
It was clear that I needed to
tell everyone and get involved
That’s exactly what he’s
done. Harris now sits on the
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s
board, and in November
2009 he and three friends
organized a benefit concert
that drew about 125 people
and raised more than $8,000.
Harris also helped organize a
recent “Cycle for Life” event
in Hunt Valley that raised a
couple thousand more dollars
for the cause.
His charitable work doesn’t
end with the Cystic Fibrosis
Foundation. Harris also works closely with Habitat for Humanity, the Ronald McDonald House
and his church, to name just a few.
Reminders of his condition are everywhere. He
was hospitalized recently with the worst CF-relat-ed episode of his life—a nearly 25 percent drop in
lung capacity almost overnight. It scared him.
It also reinforced the notion that Harris leads
what he calls “a rushed life.” There are things
to do, places to see and, because he has no life
insurance, money to be made to protect his family
down the road. And because time is short, he’s in a
hurry to do all of that now.
But Harris says his charitable work drives home
another important point: It’s not just about him.
“I feel that I’m lucky, and I have an inclination
to give something back,” he says. “There’s also
this feeling that I want to be closer to God, and
working on behalf of others opens you up to a
closer spiritual relationship.
“I’d like my legacy to be that I had a positive
impact on the greatest number of people possible,
that I somehow made a difference in this world.” n
Marcus Harris ’97
to beat the odds,
giving him time to
focus on charitable
events and help
others with cystic
Bill Sheridan’s last
story for the magazine,
appeared in the
Summer 2010 issue.