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A father shares child’s journey with spina bifida

By KATIE LEFEBVRE, Globe staff reporter
(Email Katie)

Eli Judice changed the lives of many before he was even born. Chad Judice shared his son’s story with students on Feb. 21 at Bishop Heelan High School in Sioux City.

Chad and Ashley, his wife, went in for an ultrasound to find out if their child was healthy between 16 and 20 weeks of her pregnancy.

“This is usually a happy time when you see the baby’s internal organs, hear the baby’s heart beat and if you want, you find out if it is a boy or girl,” said Chad. “As the tech began the ultrasound, I could see the look of concern on her face. When a second tech walked in the room, I saw the same look on her face.”

The couple was sent to a specialist, who told the couple their son had a birth defect call spina bifida, a neural tube defect that occurs in the first six weeks of pregnancy.

Chad of Lafayette, La., an award-winning author and teacher of honors civics and American history at St. Thomas Moore High School, a Catholic school in the Diocese of Lafayette, also spoke on Feb. 23 at St. Rose of Lima Church in Denison and on Feb. 24 at Holy Spirit Church in Carroll.

A decision

“Eighty percent of couples who receive this diagnosis choose abortion,” said the speaker. “Moved by the Holy Spirit I grabbed my wife and said, ‘It’s not your fault. It’s not my fault. God sent us this child for a reason. We have to trust in God the way our oldest son, Ephraim, trusts in us.’”

Throughout the Judices’ journey to Eli’s birth, they received many prayers and support. Eli was born in February 2009.

The speaker announced at Bishop Heelan that Ashley is pregnant with their third boy, who is completely healthy. At the conclusion of the presentation, Chad shared a video of his family and Eli’s journey.

Chad’s story has resulted in two books, “Waiting for Eli – A Father’s Journey from Fear to Faith” and “Eli’s Reach – On the Value of Human Life and the Power of Prayer.” The author’s third book, “Real Men Pray – The Conversion of a Cradle Catholic,” will come out in the next couple months.

Inspiring story

Christina Odom, a freshman theology teacher at Bishop Heelan, introduced Chad at the presentation. She presented him with T-shirts for his children and let him know the Bishop Heelan community would be praying for him and his family.

“It’s a testament to the miraculous power of prayer,” she said of Judice’s story. “I know our kids see that. We have prayed for people who have experienced healing in their lives, but I think to have this first-hand witness and to hear it from someone other than us is a testament to the power of prayer and what it can do.”

In Denison, confirmation students, St. Rose of Lima parishioners and members of the community were in attendance.

"I learned a lot about God's miracles with Eli and his disability,” said Jeff Noel, a parishioner at St. Rose. “I thought it was amazing how he was able to stay alive.”

As Cecelia Thelen, a parishioner at St. Ann's Vail, sat listening to Judice share the journey he and his family have been on, she thought “it was so inspiring to hear how just simple everyday signs have given such great strength.”  

“He reminded us all not to overlook the simple in plain sight conversations God has with all daily,” she said.

In Carroll, Chad spoke to the Kuemper Catholic 9th-12th graders, staff and the event was open to the public.

At first, Morgan Naberhaus, a senior at Kuemper, didn’t know what the talk would be about and thought it might be boring.

“As I was listening to his story, I got more interested,” she said. “No one has ever gotten my full attention as he did. As I get older, I try to pray more and go to church more.  I have always believed in God, but didn't give him my full attention.  The speaker inspired me to live a more faith-filled life.  I want to go to church and pray more than ever now. I actually want to have a relationship with God.”

“I thought he was one of the most inspiring people I've heard,” said Madeleine Schwarte, a freshman at Kuemper.  “I was inspired by his wife, too, even though she wasn't there.”


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