Herald JournalWinsted-Lester Prairie Journal, July 15, 2002

Andy Birkholz returns home after heart transplant

By Julie Yurek

Lester Prairie teenager Andy Birkholz, 16, is doing just fine after having a heart transplant June 30.

"Everything is going very good so far," said Andy's dad Doug Birkholz. Andy's mother is Patty and his sister is Amy, 14.

Andy came home late last week. He is limited to visitors so he doesn't get any kind of "bug," Doug said. "He had lots of calls in the hospital."

Andy had the transplant at Fairview University of Minnesota, East Bank, after spending only two weeks on the donor list. The call came in at about 9:30 a.m. that morning that a heart was ready.

"The surgeon told us the surgery went 'fabulous,' and that everything is going well," he said. The surgery lasted four hours.

Andy became ill around Memorial Day weekend.

A member of the school golf team, Andy was golfing when he started having flu-like symptoms, Doug said. "He had walked an 18-hole course and was more tired than normal."

"Within a week we found out his heart was in very poor shape," his dad said. He was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, meaning something in his body suddenly attacked his heart.

"The doctors can't say for sure what caused it (cardiomyopathy), but they think it was most likely a virus," he said. "There is no way to ever know for sure."

Andy's prognosis is excellent. "This surgery should be all he needs. The biggest concern is rejection," Birkholz said.

Andy will be on anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life, his dad said. "It's a minor sacrifice."

"He's an inspiration," said Brian Korf, an assistant football coach, boys varsity basketball coach, and fifth grade teacher in Lester Prairie.

"Andy's very outgoing, active, and works hard. He's a goal-setter," Korf said.

Andy is a three-sport athlete in football, basketball, and golf. He plays guard in basketball.

"He is a very dependable person. He's a good teammate and the kind of player coaches want," Korf said.

"He's telling coaches he's sure looking forward to basketball. That's his goal," Doug said. "He should be able to do everything that he was doing before."

Andy was at both Children's Hospital and Fairview University of Minnesota, East Bank the month of June, following the diagnosis after Memorial Day weekend.

He tried to go home with some medication at one point in June, but he had to go back to the hospital, said Andy's uncle Gordon Birkholz Jr.

Doug and Patty stayed at the Ronald McDonald house, which was only five minutes away from the hospital, he said.

"It's a beautiful facility," Doug said of the Ronald McDonald house.

Andy will have doctor appointments twice a week for about a month and gradually, it will be less, Doug said.

The Birkholz family is grateful and thankful for all the support they have received from the community of Lester Prairie and other surrounding communities, Doug said, as well as being very appreciative of the donor family.

"Thank you to everyone who kept us in their prayers and for the phone calls, e-mail, and cards," he said.

"When a person needs their community, it's there," Doug said.

Doug said many people have asked how they can help, and the Birkholzes suggest people become donors themselves.

At last weekend's Bulldog Shootout 3-on-3 tournament, a free-throw benefit took place for Andy.

Andy will be a junior this fall. He will celebrate his 17th birthday Sept. 27.

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