For the past six months — 189 days to be exact — 5-year-old Ari Schultz has been confined to a hospital room.
Before he was even born, Ari was diagnosed at his 18-week ultrasound with critical aortic stenosis and, a condition that leaves the left side of the heart severely underdeveloped.
“You’ve heard of kids that have half a heart? He would have had that,” Ari’s father, Michael Schultz, told CBS News. “So instead of just accepting that, we actually had fetal intervention heart surgery before he was born. He had two successful heart surgeries before he was born. He’s the first-ever to have two successful heart surgeries.”
Since then, Ari hasn’t been a stranger to hospitals, tubes or wires.
Over the course of his short life, he’s been on over 50 medications and had upwards of 10 operations, including a heart transplant at Boston Children’s Hospital. He suffered a cardiac arrest which put him on life support back in March, just weeks after the transplant.
“His heart did not beat for approximately 36 hours,” Schultz said. “The doctors told us this was to be expected. They hoped it would begin beating again before 72 hours. It did.”
Through all the crises and sleepless nights, Schultz helped lift his son’s spirits by talking about home and watching sports on TV. He slept by Ari’s side 6 out of 7 nights a week, returning home to visit his other two children.
But last week, he finally got to tell Ari some good news.
“Hey Ari, remember how you got your new heart? Do you know how you’ve been getting better now? Remember when we talked about going home someday?” Schultz can be overheard asking Ari in a video that has been viewed nearly 215,000 times on YouTube.
“Yeah,” Ari replied. “It might be a few weeks.”
“I think something changed,” Schultz told his son.
“What changed?” an eager Ari asked, smiling.
“I think it’s just going to be days now. As a matter of fact… do you want to go home on Friday?”
“Yeah, two days!” Ari shouted, holding up his two fingers.
On Friday, with his favorite plastic baseball bat in hand, Ari walked out of the hospital and headed home to reunite with his 10-month-old brother and 3-year-old sister.
“The first thing he did when he walked in the house was go to see the backyard,” Schultz said. “He ran outside and started jumping on the trampoline. Then he grabbed his baseball bat and started hitting some balls.”
Schultz said “home” is a little different since Ari was admitted to the hospital last year. While Ari was fighting acute rejection after his transplant, which led to his cardiac arrest, the family’s house was found to have a mold infestation and had to be torn down.
“We were essentially homeless,” Schultz said. “But people helped us out a ton, scooped up our other kids. We had some very challenging times.”
But for now, Schultz is just concerned with Ari’s continued improvement. He’s happy to see his son out of a hospital bed and out playing in the backyard — and that wouldn’t be possible without a donor.
“We’re grateful for the donor family and their sacrifice,” Schultz said. “We always think of them.”
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