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9-year-old waits for transplant

Nathan Johnson and his 6-year-old sister Kayla share a hug and smiles.

No parent should have to go through it and certainly no child should have to go through it -- let alone twice.

Nathan Johnson, 9, is in the hospital, waiting for his second heart transplant. The Perham boy is listed as 1A status in the region, meaning he'll get the first heart available. And who knows when that's going to be?

"It's kind of mind baffling and devastating to have to go through this again with him," his father, Eugene Johnson, said. Eugene is home with Nathan's 6-year-old sister, and his mom, Pam, is in the hospital with him in Fairview.

Having his first heart transplant at age 3½, Nathan was living just fine for years. He had routine check ups, but always checked out healthy. But this summer he started to get more tired and have shortness of breath.

The second week of June, Nathan went to an appointment at Fairview Pediatric in the Twin Cities and doctors found lesions, or the narrowing of the coronary vessels. Doctors were going to just watch the lesions and see what happened, but "it ended up they did a blood test up here at our Perham Hospital," Eugene Johnson said. "They found out that ... there was more wrong with the coronary. There was more narrowing." Nathan returned to Fairview in July and doctors found through more tests that there was even more narrowing.

"So they ended up doing these stints in him -- put two stints in his vessels."

He got to go home from there and made an appointment in August for another check-up.

"It ended up they scheduled another appointment the 20th of September when we went down, and that's when they went in and they found that what he's got is like coronary disease," Johnson said.

"The stints they had put in, the narrowing had gone past the stints."

He was put on IV medication and in the hospital until Oct. 7. He was discharged and got to go home until another appointment on Oct. 18.

"That's when they found that his heart was pumping not quite right, so that's why they figured they'd do an ultrasound and check and they found more fluid."

Doctors have removed fluid from around Nathan's heart a couple times, including Monday and Tuesday. His IV meds help relax his heart and help it to pump easier.

Johnson said it's "iffy" if his son will be able to come home from the hospital for a while because he needs even more monitoring.

And there are no answers why this heart has gone bad or if a new one will do the same or not.

"They still don't know what happened to this heart here that it did what it did. 'Cause he was doing so good, he hadn't been down for a checkup since last June, a year ago," he said.

One thing they do know is that the community is backing Nathan and the family.

A community benefit is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 24, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Prairie Wind Middle School in Perham. It is a free-will offering and includes a spaghetti dinner, bake sale, silent auction and games for the kids.

The family's church, St. John's Lutheran Church of Corliss, and other community businesses and organizations are hosting the benefit.

Donations can also be made for the Johnson family at United Community Bank.