LMU blood drive helps UCLA doctors save the life a 2-year-old boy

By Gary Walker

Four-year-old Judah Shwartz, older brother Levi and parents Jeff and Devra pose for a celebratory photo with Dr. Patricia Weng and Dr. Alice Kuo
Photo courtesy of Reed Hutchinson

Santa Monica locals Jeff and Devra Schwartz have lived every parent’s nightmare: watching and wondering if their child would survive a life-threatening illness. Last year during an extended period of illness, their then 3-year-old son Judah fought for his young life, at one point undergoing an astounding 47 blood transfusions over just three weeks.

“It was very touch and go for a while. There were a few days where we were living lab test to lab test. There’s nothing more painful than watching your child suffer and there’s nothing you can do,” recalled Jeff Schwartz.

Soon, through the kindness of both friends and strangers and a collaboration between Loyola Marymount University and the UCLA Blood & Platelet Center, Judah, now 4, is on his way to recovery and is strong enough to play again with his older brother Levi.

The two universities mounted a blood drive last year at LMU, where Jeff Schwartz works in information technology services, and within a month the O-positive blood, platelets and plasma that Judah needed came pouring in, effectively saving his life.

Judah had Hemolytic-Uremic Syndrome, a blood disorder characterized by acute kidney failure, low levels of blood platelets and low red blood cell counts. Small blood vessels in the kidneys can become damaged and cause blood clots, which can block the kidneys’ filtering system and lead to potentially life-threatening kidney failure.

Originally thought to be a stomachache after Thanksgiving 2018, further tests showed the toddler had contracted the blood disorder via the E. coli virus. He suffered seizures and mini-strokes and underwent 24-hour dialysis to clean his blood. To lessen stress on his brain and support his breathing, Judah’s doctors placed him on a ventilator and induced a medical coma.

Judah’s platelets — blood cells that help the body form clots to prevent excessive bleeding — plummeted to just 13,000; a healthy person’s count is 250,000 to 450,000.

“Many people on the care team were concerned because he suffered from quite a few complications. There were some harrowing moments for a while,” said Judah’s pediatrician, Dr. Alice Kuo of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Crista Coop, LMU’s director of educational technology services and Jeff Schwartz’ direct supervisor, said her entire team wanted to help when they heard about Judah’s illness.

“Initially we put together a massive care box for them while in the hospital. But as the situation seemed more dire, this was not enough. I learned about the blood shortage and knew that LMU had hosted blood drives in the past, so I reached out to UCLA and somehow we were able to mobilize and get a blood drive scheduled in only nine days. We had over 109 scheduled slots filled, plus walk-ins and they collected almost 80 bags before they ran out,” Coop said.

Devra Schwartz is the university’s vice president for campus safety and security.

“LMU supported us during the ordeal and afterward. They were very flexible and caring when we needed time off to go to the hospital. It’s a special place to work,” Jeff Schwartz said.

Last month the family joined Judah’s medical team at UCLA to thank his doctors and some of the donors who had helped in Judah’s recovery.

Kuo was impressed by the number of donors who answered the call to donate blood.

“Those transfusions were very life saving for Judah. That’s one of the most remarkable things about Judah’s story: the overwhelming public support for him and his family,” she said.

After months of physical and occupational therapy, Judah is almost back to his old playful self.

“He characterizes this as his period of hibernation,” Schwartz said. “He was so resilient throughout this whole ordeal. He’s my hero.”