In 2017, Gulfport residents and businesses rallied together to raise money for Jude Ward, a young child in need of a liver transplant. Now, Jude Ward, 3, son to Gulfport natives Josef and Nicole Ward, is thriving.
Jude suffered from a series of maladies almost from birth, including a brain bleed due to vitamin K deficiency, as well as a diagnosis of alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency, a condition that significantly raises the risk of lung and liver diseases. In Jude’s case, he had been suffering from an advanced form of cirrhosis of the liver – and his outlook was grim.
“This journey seems to get worse and worse as we climb this mountain to transplant,” wrote mother Nicole in a February 2017 blog post.
Fundraising by the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) and supporters and volunteers in Gulfport, St. Petersburg and Coral Springs, FL, helped to raise nearly $55,000 before Jude’s procedure, which was performed at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in July of 2017. Fundraising efforts also continued after the operation, which can exceed $500,000.
“Overall, Jude is doing incredible,” said Nicole Ward in a recent interview with the Gabber. “When we tell people his story and they look at him they say what he has been through is unbelievable.”
This July, the family will have a chance to contact UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing.
“We hope to learn more about Jude’s donor as he or she is a part of our son and will be every day for the rest of his life,” said Nicole. “But if not, we will honor them anyway in loving and encouraging Jude to lead his best life possible!”
Part of Jude’s best life includes a new baby brother or sister, as parents Josef and Nicole are expecting a third child. Additionally, Nicole says Jude is catching up on a lot of social interaction and play he missed out on due to his severe illness. Jude is playing and learning with other kids on the military base where the family lives in New Jersey, and also just started his first season of T-ball.
“He is very excited he gets to be like his big brother and play now too,” says Nicole.
Jude does still have some lingering health issues after surgery and deals with daily episodes of vomiting and severe food allergies, both to gluten and dairy.
“The anti-rejection meds keep his new organ happy, but they can cause a slew of other issues,” said Nicole.
The family says they are grateful to be stationed close to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for the sake of Jude’s health, but they can’t wait to return to Florida. A summer trip to Gulfport has been planned. Nicole Ward spoke for her family, thanking Gulfport for helping Jude.
“We want to put our hearts out there and extend our gratitude to the community for loving and supporting our Jude in his greatest time of need.”
To learn more about Jude’s story and road to health, follow the Jude’s Journey of Hope page on Facebook.