Hahnville woman planning event to benefit teen battling heart failure

Nicholas Eirich with doctor.

For a year of his life, Nicholas Eirich knew what it was like to have energy, to breathe easily and to do everything other children like the then-14-year-old could do.

But then things began unraveling, and he was once again embroiled in the battle he’s waged the majority of his life, ever since he underwent open heart surgery at just nine days old.

Eirich, 17, was born with a congenital heart defect, prompting that surgery. It seemed to fix the issue until 2019, when Eirich’s family learned his heart was failing – and he’d need a transplant. His family, friends and community stepped forward to help the family, both in terms of moral support and financial donations, and Eirich ultimately received his heart.

“Until he got the transplant, for his whole life he never knew what it was like to have that normal energy level,” said Meshell Northcutt of Hahnville, a close friend of Eirich’s mother Gena. “He didn’t realize he was operating at half-capacity. He felt really good for one year … it was life-changing.

“But he’s back to struggling to breathe and get through each day. His heart is failing.”

Northcutt, who led efforts to raise more than $40,000 for the family via GoFundMe and other fundraisers after Eirich was initially diagnosed with heart failure in 2019, said that Eirich has had to endure hurdle after hurdle the past couple of years.

Approximately 19 months after being diagnosed for the first time with heart failure, Eirich began to feel sick on a late Sunday night in September of 2020. The family contacted his cardiologist who advised him to seek hospital care. Upon arriving, he received frightening news: his body was in severe rejection of his heart, and worse, doctors gave him just a 50-percent chance to live.

He was intubated and put on life support immediately, and over the course of the next two weeks his body would battle a litany of serious problems. He went into kidney failure. He developed infection where tubes were inserted into his chest for life support. He suffered severe muscle damage to his legs and a lot of muscle had to be removed. He developed a resistance to one of his anti-rejection medications.

But all of that said – he battled through, and he wouldn’t need another transplant initially as things stabilized.
Sadly, more challenges were heaped upon him. Diabetes and COVID-19 among them – the latter led to a heart procedure being postponed. Finally, it all led to Eirich officially needing another transplant.

“It’s a tricky situation because to be on the transplant list … you have to be sick, but you have to be well enough to be a candidate to receive a heart,” Northcutt said. “So, it’s been a very emotional time. He’s on the list as of a few weeks ago, and now it’s just a matter of waiting.”

For Eirich, it’s more of a burden to bear than is fair for anyone, much less someone not yet into his adult years. For his parents, it’s also unfathomably stressful.

“I always say Gena’s the strongest person I know, but she can only do so much – on the inside, she’s a nervous wreck,” Northcutt said. “Every time her phone even makes a sound, it could be that call (for a transplant), and you have to be ready to go.”

Northcutt is again planning a fundraiser to help the Eirichs. It is set for Aug. 20, a fried fish, jambalaya and white beans sale from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Bruce’s Fatboys Retreat in Luling. With the food will be a day of music, including performances by Will Dempsey, Rockin Dopsie and DJ Fish. There will also be a 50-50 raffle.

“We wanted to wait until he was re-listed (on the transplant list), and once that happened, it was time to get the ball rolling,” she said. “We’re going to need blood drives … we’re gonna need help.”

 

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