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Sara Ultz with her father, Ron Ultz, a code enforcement officer for the city of Athens, on Friday. Sara Ultz is recovering from an October 2006 six-organ transplant.
AP photo by Karen Middleton
Sara Ultz with her father, Ron Ultz, a code enforcement officer for the city of Athens, on Friday. Sara Ultz is recovering from an October 2006 six-organ transplant.

Athens woman returns home after digestive system transplant

ATHENS (AP) — An Athens woman who had six organs replaced in a rare transplant of her digestive system in October has returned home, thanks to a new medicine that allowed her to avoid undergoing the surgery again.

"I take 40 pills a day, but that's a small price to pay for a brand new life," Sara Ultz said.

Ultz, 28, who received the stomach, pancreas, spleen, liver and small and large intestines of a 9-year-boy in the operation at a Miami hospital, was able to return to her parents' home in April, a trip that was cast in doubt when her bowel would not function properly.

"They thought they would have to redo the surgery," her father, Ron Ultz, said. "They said they would try a new medicine, but it probably wouldn't work."

But he said when they tried the new drug, Periactin, "it immediately started working. I mean we were literally within days of surgery — that's how close it came. She got to come home on April 14."

Sarah Ultz, who was living in Birmingham when she fell ill with a bowel obstruction, goes weekly to UAB's Kirkland Clinic to check for signs of rejection or deterioration. She is scheduled for a "tune-up" in Miami in June.

"The bowel is not working at 100 percent," her father said. "Sara has a catheter in her chest where she receives a day's worth of calories every night, but it is very hard on her liver. She also has to have two bags of saline a day because of dehydration."

'Good days and bad days'

"They told us there would be good days and bad days, so enjoy the good days while you can," he said.

The transplant operation was set in motion last fall when her father searched the Internet and got an e-mail response from Dr. Andreas Tzakis, a prominent transplant surgeon and former director of the University of Pittsburgh's Pediatric Liver and Intestinal Transplant Programs. He joined the University of Miami School of Medicine in 1994 as co-director of its transplant division and director of a newly created Division of Liver and Intestinal Transplantation.

Tzakis agreed to perform a multi-visceral transplant on Sara when a donor became available.

In an interview with The Associated Press last October, Tzakis said about 300 of these transplants have been done worldwide, about half of them at the Miami hospital. Anne Paschke, a spokeswoman for the Virginia-based Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, said 45 multi-visceral transplants were performed nationwide in 2005.

Sara Ultz's huge medical costs have been paid largely through health insurance she had when she became ill, and Medicare is to take over coverage in about a year. She said she has been approved for Social Security long-term disability.

Her father, a code enforcement officer, said the national organization of the Fraternal Order of Police donated $20,000 to help with bills not covered by insurance. He said the local F.O.P has provided assistance, too.

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Information from: Athens News-Courier, www.enewscourier.com

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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