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Baby Judah Shurtz awaits liver transplant this month – The Jackson Sun

AJ Morris, 8:05 p.m. CST December 4, 2014

When Jackson residents Donny and Tessa Shurtz decided to name their second son “Judah,” they never imagined how appropriate this moniker would turn out to be.

Born on June 23 of this year, Judah was soon diagnosed with a condition known as biliary atresia, making him one newborn out of 15,000 to be affected. Now at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh awaiting a liver transplant, Judah has lived up to his name, fighting hard to make it through his struggle and smiling while he does it.

For Tessa Shurtz, Judah’s name brings an extra degree of hope to her family.

“We’ve always liked the name Judah,” she said. “It’s a biblical name, and we’re glad now more than anything that we picked that name because Judah is part of Jesus’ lineage, the lion of the tribe of Judah, and our son is strong. He’s a fighter like a lion. We’re glad that we picked the name that we did, even though at the time we didn’t know that there was anything going on with him. It totally fits him perfectly. It’s a good strong name.”

Born with a small degree of skin discoloration known as jaundice, Judah seemed to have no other health concerns. When the jaundice failed to improve, however, as a nurse Tessa Shurtz became concerned and took Judah to see his doctor.

“When Judah was born, he was a little bit jaundiced,” said Tessa. “Nobody knew that there was anything wrong with him. We just got used to him being a little bit jaundiced. Then when he was two and a half months old, we had had him out and I saw him under the fluorescent lights from a distance and he just looked really yellow, and I just thought something’s not right. So one day I called his doctor to get some blood work done, and by late that night we were in Nashville.”

After two biopsies on his liver and a cholangiogram, doctors determined that Judah’s ducts were closed and diagnosed him with biliary atresia. Known as BA, this disease is an inflammation and blockage of the tiny tubes that drain bile from inside the liver to the gall bladder and on to the small intestine. Due to the blockage bile becomes trapped in the liver, causing scarring and eventually liver failure. The disease begins soon after birth and, if untreated, has a general life expectancy of two years.

After his diagnosis, Judah immediately underwent what’s known as the Kasai procedure to save his liver. The procedure has a success rate of 50 percent, and for Judah it turned out to be unsuccessful. For the Shurtzes, the entire process was a mix of shock and prayer.

“We were, of course, completely shocked,” said Tessa Shurtz, “because jaundice is normal for babies and you don’t think that it could be something serious, so it was completely devastating — lots of tears. Then when the surgery failed, that was pretty hard to hear as well. Half the time it works and half the time it doesn’t, and it just happened that it didn’t work for him and that was pretty hard to hear as well because we knew at that point the thing to save his life would be a liver transplant, and just being put on the national waiting list it could be years before something becomes available.”

After Judah was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, doctors quickly found a liver donor for his transplant, and he is scheduled to undergo the procedure on Dec. 16. The move to Pittsburgh has turned out to be a blessing for Judah’s family, especially for his father, Donny, who has been encouraged by the other families he has met there.

“It’s definitely reassuring here,” said Donny Shurtz. “All the parents who have been coming here for a while say that we’re in the right place, and every now and then we’ll run across the older patients who have had their liver transplants who are running around like normal kids, so it’s reassuring when you see stuff like that. Not so much reading the literature and hearing testimonies, but when you actually see a little guy running around not long after surgery, that’s what helps the most. Through this whole thing Judah’s been a pretty hard little fighter, and I’ve started to call him my little lion because of the lion of Judah. Even on his bad days he manages to smile, and just like a little lion, he’s a little fighter.”

The Shurtz family has set up a Facebook page called “Prayers For Judah’s Journey” where you can stay up to date on Judah’s progress and offer your support. The family has also set up a way to donate financially to help with medical costs. Those interested in contributing can email the Shurtzes at

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