Pumping like a champ

Six-year-old Cameron Ulrich gets new heart


Cameron Ulrich has a new heart. The Oak Park Heights six-year-old had been waiting for a new heart at the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center since Oct. 22 when he was put on the transplant wait list.

Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Johnson is Cameron’s doctor. Before the transplant, Ulrich had been on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine for 199 days. The device provides


both cardiac and respiratory support to patients whose heart and lungs are so severely diseased or damaged that they can no longer serve their function. The machine allowed Ulrich to live long enough to receive his donor heart.

Prior to Cameron’s case, the longest known record for someone to survive on ECMO was 120 days. Ulrich’s transplant took place on May 15 and Johnson said he’s doing well. The family learned last Tuesday that the heart was available.

“I would say there was a fight over who got to tell the family the news,” Johnson said. “Mom (Kari Ulrich) was talking at 900 words per minute and they were so excited. The nurses were all hugging each other and it was even more special when he came out of surgery. All the nurses in town were stopping by his room to say hi.”

Johnson said there’s lots of love for Ulrich and his family right now.

“No doubt about it, and they’re just an incredible family. What they’ve had to go through has been so difficult and they’re just great. ” Johnson said.

Ulrich is recovering and will be at the hospital for several months.

Johnson said the next steps include taking care of complications that arise from being on the ECMO machine. Johnson said those include getting Ulrich’s GI tract working so he can eat food by mouth, and getting him off the ventilator so he can breathe on his own.

“It will be a very slow process, but he’s making baby steps every single day. He’s

still on the vent and he’ll still be on it for a couple more days or weeks and will have to have dialysis,” Johnson said. “He’s still got a long way to go but the new heart is pumping like a champ.”

Doctors will continue to watch Ulrich to ensure he doesn’t reject his new heart, or have to deal with infections. Once released from the hospital, Ulrich will continue to check in with doctors throughout his life. Johnson said a typical donor heart could last up to 25 years.

“We’re continuing to learn and we now have different medications we can use to suppress the immune system and lower the risk of rejection,” Johnson said. “Our knowledge has improved so much over even the past 10 years and it can only get better from here.”

Ulrich’s story is one that resonates with thousands of people waiting for transplants across the world. More than 115,000 men, women and children currently need lifesaving organ transplants, and 18 people die each day due to lack of available organs for transplant. To learn more about organ donation Ginger Plumbo from the Mayo’s department of public affairs recommended the following web sites: www.donatelife.net and www.life-source.org.

“Organs for kids are tricky we try to get as close a match as we possibly can. And this one is almost a perfect match. It’s a heart with great function and I’m super pleased about it.” Johnson said. “Hopefully Cameron will have a full recovery and be able to do whatever he wants to do with his life.”

To keep posted on Cameron’s Journey check out his CaringBridge site: www.caringbridge.org/visit/cameronulrich