updated 11/3/2006 8:27:28 PM ET 2006-11-04T01:27:28

An Athens woman who underwent a rare transplant of her digestive system at a Miami hospital last month said she had her first regular meal Friday since the surgery and walked some laps around the ward.

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Sara Ultz, 28, was studying at the University of Alabama at Birmingham for a master's degree in business when she became ill in August 2005 with a stomach ache. It let to the 13-hour surgery in which Ultz received a stomach, pancreas, spleen, liver, and small and large intestines.

"I was only four classes from being done," Ultz said in a telephone interview Friday from her hospital room. She expects to be in Miami a few more months while recovering.

Ultz first received treatment last year at Brookwood Hospital in Birmingham. Doctors found a bowel obstruction and removed part of her small intestine. But she required more severe surgery and was admitted to the Jackson Memorial Hospital for what is called a multivisceral transplant.

University of Miami surgery professor Dr. Andreas Tzakis, director of the hospital's liver and gastrointestinal transplant program, confirmed Ultz received the transplanted organs.

Tzakis, a UM/Jackson surgeon, commented to The Associated Press in a telephone interview after Ultz's surgery was first reported Friday by The News Courier in Athens.

Her parents, Gail and Ron Ultz, are in Miami with their daughter.

Anne Paschke, a spokeswoman for the Virginia-based Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, said 45 multivisceral transplants were performed nationwide in 2005 and 36 have been completed from January through July this year.

Tzakis said about 300 of these transplants have been done worldwide, about half of them at the Miami hospital. In 2005, the hospital performed 18 transplants and so far this year has performed 28.

Tzakis said the first three months of recovery are the toughest for patients. He said about 65 percent of the hospital's patients getting the transplants are children.

Sara Ultz said her father brought her computer so she's keeping in touch with friends and family by e-mail and cell phone.

"My goal is to move back to Birmingham. That's my city. I've lived there since I was 18," said Ultz, an East Limestone High School graduate who earned a degree in biology in 2000.

During her daughter's medical crisis, Gail Ultz learned she had one of her own — a failing kidney. She was admitted to the same Miami hospital caring for her daughter and now requires kidney dialysis three times a week and will probably need a kidney transplant.

Ultz's mother works for the city of Athens, where co-workers plan a benefit chicken stew and bake sale to help the family pay expenses.

Gail Ultz said she has always carried an organ donor card and thought she would give up an organ if necessary to one of her two daughters.

Sara Ultz will have to remain on expensive anti-rejection drugs throughout her life.

"That is something I'll also have to face if I have a transplant," Gail Ultz said.

She's no stranger to adversity. Nearly three years ago, her brother, Athens Police Sgt. Larry Russell, was gunned down with fellow officer Tony Mims in an ambush slaying.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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