Gerry Mehl of Sorrento stood at the intersection of State, Main and Water streets Friday morning carrying a sign looking for potential kidney donors. Mehl’s stepson, 51-year-old Mark Harrell of Milbridge, has polycystic kidney disease. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY STEVE FULLER

Sorrento man takes search for kidney donor for stepson to the streets

ELLSWORTH — While many spent Black Friday standing in line at a big-box store looking for an incredible deal on a flat-screen TV, Gerry Mehl spent his day standing on a street corner in downtown Ellsworth looking for a kidney donor for his stepson.

Mark Harrell, 51, lives in Milbridge and has polycystic kidney disease (PKD). It is an inherited genetic disorder that causes fluid-filled cysts to form in kidneys and sometimes other organs, and in many cases leads to kidney failure.

It also causes kidneys to grow in size, and Harrell said his are the size of footballs. The pain leaves him unable to sleep at times.

Harrell does in-home dialysis at his parents’ house in Sorrento four days a week, with each session lasting five to five and a half hours. While dialysis helps, it is neither easy nor the ideal solution.

“The life expectancy of someone on dialysis is half that of someone with a transplanted kidney,” Harrell wrote in a letter to the editor earlier this year.

For months, he and his parents have driven around with decals on their vehicles that read, “KIDNEY DONOR NEEDED 207-422-1119.” The number is Mehl’s, as Harrell does not have reliable phone service where he lives.

As Black Friday drew closer, Mehl decided it would be a good opportunity to share that same message with the large number of people out shopping that day.

He began at around 8:30 a.m. by standing at the corner of Main and High streets, then moved to Walmart for a bit before heading down to the busy corner of State, Main and Water streets.

The sign made of bright yellow posterboard that Mehl held up as cars passed by carried the same message as the decals on his family’s vehicles. After being out on the streets for a few hours, he said he had received a few friendly honks and “quite a few waves.”

Mehl said he does not want to watch his stepson suffer anymore — seeing Harrell get hooked up to the dialysis machine and watching the two needles go in, day after day.

“Until you see it — until you see him on the machine…” Mehl said, emotion evident in his voice. “It’s not pleasant.”

Harrell is on a transplant list, but he is one of more than 1,000 people in Maine waiting for a kidney transplant and one of more than 60,000 around the country. The average wait time for a kidney from someone who has died is three to five years, according to the KidneyLink program.

That is why Harrell and his family are looking for a living donor, and that is why they are being proactive in their search.

“Sitting back and just waiting is not an option for me,” said Harrell, who called his parents his heroes for their assistance. While Mehl was out with the sign on Friday morning, his wife, Sonny, was at home helping her son with his dialysis.

Information about the living donation process can be found by visiting

Anyone who is interested in becoming a living donor, or knows someone who might be, can contact Mehl by calling 422-1119 or calling the transplant center at Maine Medical Center in Portland directly at (800) 870-5230 and selecting option number four.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.
Steve Fuller

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