Nathan Ruhland is August's Kid with Courage.
Updated: Aug. 31, 2022 at 10:00 PM CDT
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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – KTTC is honored to introduce viewers monthly to some of the youngest among us, facing the unthinkable with bravery and optimism. In our 24th “Kids With Courage” segment, Caitlin Alexander introduces us to 15-year-old Nathan Ruhland from Rockville, Minn.

Nathan met with KTTC outside Mayo Clinic, alongside two friends he’s made during his time in Rochester... but only one of them is human.

“Dogs are my favorite,” he said with a smile.

Nurse Practitioner Marty Unruh and his goldendoodle Ervin both supported Nathan during his health journey.

“I mean, this guy has absolutely everybody wrapped around his finger at the hospital. Nurses, doctors, nurse practitioners, physicians assistants. Everybody was like, ‘How’s Nathan?’” Unruh recalled.

Throughout much of Nathan’s life, the answer to that question was not great.

As an infant, doctors diagnosed Nathan with aortic stenosis, which according to Mayo Clinic, is when “the heart’s aortic valve narrows.” That means he has issues with blood flow.

Nathan has had five open heart surgeries and many more procedures.

Eventually, his path led him to Mayo, where medical staff determined he needed a new heart.

“I was waiting there before I got my heart, and Marty was working there,” Nathan said.

Unruh works in cardiovascular surgery.

He and others in the department got to know Nathan well during his hospital stay.

“You’ve [Nathan] had a lot of disappointments in your journey, but somehow this guy has been able to maintain an optimism that is unparalleled. You don’t see it often,” Unruh said.

After a month waiting, Nathan found out he would get his heart on January 13th.

“The night before he got his heart transplant, I came into work that night, and my colleague said, ‘Hey, Nathan would really like to see a dog. I don’t know if you can make that happen or not.’ And I have a dog, so,” Unruh recalled with a laugh.

Ervin had never made a trip into his dad’s work before, but he rose to the challenge. He provided snuggles and smiles when Nathan needed them most.

The support continued as Nathan remained hospitalized all the way to June due to a complication.

“He got me a book full of pics of the nurses’ dogs,” Nathan said.

Nathan even coined the term “code dog” in the department which means a dog is passing through.

“I get a page from the nurse. ‘Code dog’ to room whatever and he’s the one that started that. It’s a lot of fun,” Unruh said.

It’s impossible to break this Kid With Courage’s spirit or his friendships.

If you know a Kid With Courage Caitlin should meet, email