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Perham boy has second heart transplant

Nine-year-old Nathan Johnson of Perham has a new heart. Again.

Last Friday, Nov. 12, the Johnson family was told at 7:17 a.m. that a heart was available, and Nathan and his mom and dad were airlifted from the Perham airport to St. Paul, then taken in an ambulance to Amplatz Children's Hospital in the Twin Cities.

After an entire day of waiting, Nathan was prepped for surgery around 6 p.m.

According to Pastor Phil Booe of St. John's Lutheran Church of Corliss, who accompanied the Johnson family to the Twin Cities, Nathan hopped onto the gurney and said, "Let's get this over with."

"Nathan was nervous and a bit scared," Booe wrote in an e-mail, "But seemed more interested in getting it done and getting something to eat (he wasn't able to eat all day)."

The donor veins leading to Nathan's neck and head were short, Booe said, and the doctors had to put in something artificial.

Except for that, the surgery was successful, Booe said.

According to Booe, Nathan is recovering very well and the doctors have said that if everything continues to go well, he could be home by Thanksgiving.

Nathan's problems began when he was 2 years old when it was discovered that he had a disease associated with the weakening of his heart muscle. After several years of medical tests and treatment, Nathan had his first heart transplant in January 2005. In June of this year, tests discovered that Nathan's heart was not functioning properly, and in September the doctors decided that he would need to undergo another transplant.

It took 18 months for Nathan to receive his first heart, and only two to receive his second. One reason it took less time is because when he received his first heart, Nathan was three and could only accept hearts from two to five-year-old donors. Now nine, Nathan was able to accept hearts from seven to 12-year-old donors.

Nathan's story was followed closely by many in the Perham and surrounding community. A benefit for Nathan held in Perham on Oct. 24 was attended by more than 1,000 people, who raised $25,000 in support of the Johnson family.

In a blog, Pam, Nathan's mother, wrote that Nathan's recovery will be difficult, and there are "some big days ahead of us." It will take some time for Nathan's body to heal and adjust to the new heart, she wrote.

On Monday, Pam wrote that, "Nathan is having a very good day. What more could we ask for."