BOSTON — Ari “Danger” Schultz, the 5 year old who became an Internet sensation before receiving a heart transplant in March, died Friday.
Nicknamed “Danger” for his courage amid dozens of operations and long hospital stays, Ari was the first person to undergo two successful heart surgeries before birth. Following mother Erica Schultz’s 18-week ultrasound, Ari was diagnosed with critical aortic stenosis and evolving hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
On Thursday, Ari had a seizure and was admitted to Boston’s Children’s Hospital. There, he received 90 minutes of CPR and was placed on life support in the cardiac intensive care unit. During Ari’s final moments on Friday, the family listened to a baseball game with him.
“Ari passed away peacefully this evening listening to the Red Sox,” the family posted on Facebook. The funeral was held in Wayland, outside Boston, on Sunday.
Ari’s plight became widely known in March, when a touching video of him was viewed around the world. The clip showed his “sweet reaction” to news he would be receiving a new heart after 211 days on the transplant list. The plucky boy asked his parents a lot of questions while pacing around the hospital room, alternating between excitement and fear.
Unfortunately, within days of the transplant surgery, Ari’s new heart experienced acute rejection. He went into cardiac arrest and it took several weeks for him to begin breathing on his own again.
Following weeks of recovery, Ari returned home on June 16. There, in the family’s rented house, he enjoyed playing with siblings Lexi, 3, and Eli, 11 months. Although no one expected it, this would be Ari’s final month at home.
‘The little boy who became a legend’
“We had a lot of quiet time,” said Mike Schultz of his son’s first weekend back from the hospital last month. “After I disinfected [the house] on Fathers’ Day for 3 hours, we just hung around and played baseball on PlayStation and watched ‘The Sandlot,'” Schultz told The Times of Israel after Ari’s release from Children’s Hospital.
“Ari is an awesome kid. He’s smart and funny, he’s just a joy to be around,” said Schultz, who grew up and had his bar mitzvah in Peabody, north of Boston.
A professor of international business at Brandeis University, Schultz spent his summers at overnight Jewish sports camp. Thirty years later, when Ari’s plight went viral, some of Schultz’s friends from Camp Bauercrest reached out to him, he said.
“I bet [Ari] will be reading sometime soon, retains everything we read to him from Harry Potter, currently in the middle of book 3,” wrote Schultz on the family’s blog, Echoes of Hope. “And I’m telling him the Lord of the Rings story at meal times in great detail and he loves it. We just met Strider in Bree. Exciting ride ahead of us,” wrote Schultz.
A devout Red Sox fan, Ari spent his final weeks surrounded by the team’s players and concerned fans. After some requests on the part of his father, Ari also met with sports legends, including golf’s Hale Irwin, as well as local celebrities.
Watching their son endure months on the transplant list led Ari’s parents to start an organ donor campaign. Called “Save 100k Lives,” the effort was in honor of the family whose child’s heart went to their son.
“We think about the donor family and the enormous, selfless, life-saving choice they made during their most devastating moment,” wrote Mike and Erica Schultz in April. “Our lives have been difficult recently. It would be easy to sit here and do nothing. But for Ari, and for every person and child waiting for the gift of a life-saving organ, we felt we could make a difference,” said the couple.
When asked about his family’s resilience throughout Ari’s ordeal, Mike Schultz said that he and his wife “just kept showing up.” He has benefited from his father’s “old man Jewish sense of humor,” said Schultz. Having just retired, 75-year-old Stan Schultz took the train from Revere Beach each morning to see Ari during his six-month stint at Children’s Hospital.
“I made the decision to see Ari through whatever we had to see him through,” Mike Schultz said last month. “It’s on the very far end of what people have to go through,” he said.
Since Ari’s death on Friday, people have expressed their grief on social media, including the parents of children waiting for organ transplants. Mourners reflected on “the little boy who became a legend,” as one woman called Ari.
“I’ve never been around such an uplifting little kid,” said Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts over the weekend. The player had a nearly three-hour play date with Ari on July 14, along with teammate Christian Vazquez. Following spirited games of baseball, football and story-reading, Bogaerts invited Ari to throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park on August 27.
“That news, it’s just so sad. He has a special family,” said Bogaerts of Ari’s death.
“Some fans make an instant impact on our team. Ari Schultz, with his optimism & unbridled excitement, is at the top. We’ll miss you, Ari,” said a tweet from the Red Sox.