For Judah, “Get Back Up Again” Means Living

UNIVERSITY NEWS | This story has many heroes. A 3-year-old boy facing a life-threatening crisis. His parents facing the specter of losing a child. The doctors who worked to save him. A community’s response to a call for help.

The harrowing tale began simply enough: young Judah Schwartz was taken to the doctor in late-November with a stomach ache and other flu like symptoms. Since he hadn’t eaten in more than 24 hours, his parents expected him to get an IV, maybe a prescription, and then return home.

They were stunned when concern immediately escalated as the doctor told his parents to take Judah to the emergency room, which soon turned into him being moved and admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at UCLA Ronald Reagan Hospital that very night. Tests revealed that the toddler had been exposed to E. coli bacteria, which led to a disease that seriously compromised his kidney functions. Judah required urgent medications and further examinations to determine exactly what was happening inside him.

Judah’s downward spiral was terrifyingly fast as he suffered countless seizures, mini-strokes, medical treatments, and blood and platelet transfusions, including being placed in a medically-induced coma with days of dialysis and ventilation machines. Each 24-hour period brought new challenges.

Judah’s parents, Jeff Schwartz, an instructional technologist with Information Technology Services, and Devra Schwartz, who formerly worked in the Department of Public Safety and still consults with the university, lived a four-week nightmare of trying to save their son’s life while having so much out of their control.

Jeff and Devra managed the nonstop cycle of hospital routines and consultations. Jeff described their days saying that “life in the ICU has its own space-time continuum.” As the two-week point came and went, they were living hour by hour and lab test to lab test, with days punctuated by moments of joy and relief only to be followed by crises that sent them running for new tests and examinations.

Levi, Judah’s older brother, is happy to have him home.

The family saw the phenomenal care by the doctors and nurses at UCLA, as they worked to save Judah’s life. Devra and Jeff relied on their parents, siblings and employers and were able to be at Judah’s side 24/7. Through all of this, they were still able to take care of Judah’s big brother, Levi, who, though just 6 years old, showed wisdom and resilience beyond his years throughout the ordeal, Jeff said.

Ending the third week of their saga, Judah finally began to show small signs of improvement. With the seizures medically stabilized, he was brought out of sedation and eventually able to eat the first real food in three weeks. He enjoyed gradual doses of books, music, and playtime, and as many hugs and cuddles as he could tolerate. As Judah regained strength over the next few days, it was clear that his speech and his fine motor control were impacted by the strokes and seizures. Jeff and Devra began making plans for the assorted therapies that would be required and they recognized that there would be a great deal of work to do in the months ahead.

After nearly a month in the hospital, the family finally felt a corner had been turned: Judah had found his smile, his insatiable curiosity, his imagination, and his adorable gregariousness once again. His kidney function had steadily improved and the seizures were kept at bay for a few days. Judah’s care team weaned him off medications and tried to make him comfortable as he became more aware of his surroundings and all of the trauma that his little body has been forced to endure.

Through all of this, calls for help and prayers went out through Facebook, LMU This Week, and other avenues for blood donors. Crista Copp, director of educational technology services and support in ITS, led LMU’s efforts to rally assistance for Judah, organizing a campus blood drive on his behalf. She said that the blood drive brought in 150 people, some waiting in line for more than two hours, with 80 bags of blood collected. The hashtag #judahstrong became the connection. When he felt better, Judah was shown all the cards and notes that were made at the LMU blood drive. Jeff said that while Judah doesn’t grasp the depth of the kindness and generosity that has surrounded the family, they know that they couldn’t have made it without the help of family, friends, colleagues, strangers, and the amazing health care team at UCLA.

LMU’s spiritual community, mobilized by John Flaherty, associate director of Campus Ministry, and campus Rabbi Zachary Zysman jumped into action from the onset, offering their combined prayers, across several religions, for a speedy recovery.

On Dec. 20, Devra sent the message so many friends and family were hoping to see: “We are home from the hospital!!” In the midst of Judah’s toughest times, Devra would whisper in his ear that under no circumstance was she leaving the hospital without him. As they walked out the front doors with tears of joy and relief streaming down their faces, she made good on that promise.

Now, several weeks out of the hospital, Judah still has challenges to overcome. He and his family take small outings every day — to the park, a restaurant, physical therapy, the doctor’s office, a walk around the block. They even stopped by the La Brea Tarpits at Judah’s request.

Judah takes to the ice during an outing at the end of December.

The other day, Judah insisted on going ice skating (an outing that his big brother had enjoyed the day before.) As one of their favorite doctors preached in the hospital, sometimes you have to push the limits to see what your kid is capable of. True to form, Judah exceeded expectations by maintaining his balance and walking on his skates without help. Just two weeks prior, he couldn’t walk or stand on his own and could barely move the left side of his body. At the tender age of 3, his relentless positivity and strength inspires his family daily.

One of Judah’s favorite movies is “Trolls.” During their time in the hospital, the Schwartz family would listen to two songs from its soundtrack, “Get Back Up Again” and “True Colors,” repeatedly, especially when things were really tough. His nurses would even sing along. Now, on every outing, Judah asks to play the Trolls soundtrack, and declares “Get Back Up Again” as their song.

The lyrics encapsulate Judah’s attitude perfectly:

“I’m not giving up today
There’s nothing getting in my way
And if you knock knock me over
I will get back up again, oh
If something goes a little wrong
Well you can go ahead and bring it on
‘Cause if you knock, knock me over, I will get back up again”

Jeff said there are no words to adequately express their gratitude for everything everyone worked so tirelessly to do for Judah and their family and for all the love and support they received from the LMU community. “From the bottom of our hearts, we want to thank all of the LMU faculty, staff, and students who took time to support our family with gestures big and small. We are humbled and privileged to be a part of this community and we will never forget the kindness that we experienced from our LMU family,” said Jeff.