PRINCETON, Minn — A 12-year-old boy from Princeton fought for his life until he finally got a new heart from a transplant.
What he did in the year following proves his new heart is exactly in the right place.
Carter Julson spoke in front of the Princeton School Board in February to ask for the district’s blessing to fulfill a wish.
“Your whole family can come up,” Sue Vanhoosser, the chair of the board, told Carter as he sat by his parents and brother, waiting for his time to speak.
“You want us to?” Brian Julson, Carter’s father, asked his son.
“I’m OK!” he told his dad.
The room laughed as his family watched him walk up to the podium with big smiles on their faces.
That moment reminded Brian of the day his family prayed about: The day their son would get a brand new heart.
“He was getting wheeled away,” said Brian. “He’s like, 'I got this.' It’s supposed to be the other way around. We’re supposed to be doing the comforting.”
In 2019 Carter Julson was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease that makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood. The months and years that followed involved Carter losing the ability to keep up with sports, long hospital visits in Rochester and a lot of family prayers.
Brian and Sarah Julson took turns being with Carter in Rochester, while his now-14-year-old brother tried to carry on with life as best he could.
“We've always been close, but we've gotten a lot closer,” said Drew Julson, Carter’s older brother.
In March of 2022, Carter was put on the 1A heart transplant waitlist.
Sarah said doctors told her that kids like Carter typically would have to wait in the hospital for four to six months until there was a right fit.
His family got a call early in the morning on March 28, six days after his name was added to the list. They had found a donor.
“We knew what that meant,” said Brian Julson. “That was hard dealing with, you know, that somebody had passed to give Carter life. It meant everything.”
“It meant we could be back together,” said Sarah. “The boys could grow old together. We could see a lot of things happen in life again.”
Carter’s family wasn’t his only support system. Teachers, neighbors, friends, family, and even strangers, pitched in through fundraisers and more.
“The community has done so much that I wanted to give a thank you that’s more than just saying ‘thank you,’” said Carter.
That opportunity was given when he became eligible for Make-A-Wish Minnesota.
“Drew was doing a summer weight program,” said Carter. “He was talking about how it was just a hard place to work out.”
Princeton High School’s gym was undoubtedly in need of an update. Nearly three decades' worth of high schoolers have used the same, rusted equipment.
“That really sparked the idea,” said Carter. “That’s what I want to do.”
“We tried to convince him, 'Hey, the Super Bowl is coming up!'” Brian laughed. “'You want to go?' And he’s like, 'No, Dad. This is what I want to do.'”
Make-A-Wish Minnesota says a wish that gives in this magnitude is rare.
The nonprofit expects to grant more than 250 wishes by the end of the year for kids with critical illnesses.
Carter’s wish was the only one this year defined as a "Wish to Give."
“Giving back to your community brings a different sense of joy,” said Ashley Kilcher, the senior director of marketing and communications for Make-A-Wish Minnesota.
Make-A-Wish worked with the Julson family and other organizations to make Carter’s wish a reality.
“We are completely locally funded and operated,” said Kilcher. “All the donations that come in stay in Minnesota for our Minnesota wish kids.”
Carter’s wish came to fruition in June, with an opening ceremony for friends, family, contributors and even medical staff.
“When I look at kids like Carter, I know that they have the heart of a hero with their organ donor inside of them,” said Dr. Rebecca Ameduri, a Mayo Clinic doctor who specializes in pediatric cardiology and treated Carter.
“But Carter is a hero in his own right, too,” she said as she addressed the crowd in the high school’s gymnasium.
“It feels like Christmas morning,” said Carter as he spoke during the ceremony. “Thank you again for making this wish come true.”
After his father thanked contributors and the family who donated Carter’s heart, Carter cut the ribbon to reveal the new gym.
All of the equipment was brand new and colored orange to match the school’s mascot, the Princeton Tigers.
“Wow, this is so cool!” he said as he wandered around the new weight room.
“It’s a great day, it’s an emotional day,” said Sarah.
His classmates cheered him on as he picked up weights.
Today, Carter has regained his strength after the transplant surgery and is up to his usual shenanigans in sports.
“He can run, throw — he can do everything,” said Carter’s teacher and coach, Chad Ruzek. “But the smile never left his face. He had a constant smile, positive attitude, and never complained about anything. Seeing him make a full circle, that’s everything you could wish for.”
To donate to Make-A-Wish Minnesota, visit https://wish.org/minnesota.
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