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Oakland County

April 1, 2013

The journey to save ‘J’

Couple is recognized for their generosity as foster parents

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

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Judy and John Wright, of Lake Orion, pose with baby Jayden. It took months of constant care to bring the foster child, who suffered from 27 different ailments at birth, back from the brink of death.

OAKLAND COUNTY — It all started with a baby they called “J.”

On March 21, Judy Wright, of Lake Orion, and her late husband, John, were recognized at the Oakland County Board of Commissioners meeting after having been named Michigan’s Foster Parents of the Year by the Michigan Supreme Court last November. The Wrights are credited with saving Baby J, a foster child born with so many ailments that most medical professionals believed she wouldn’t live more than a few weeks. 

The fight to save Baby J began nearly four years ago, when the Wrights were called to take in another foster child. They have four birth children of their own, and have been fostering children for the state for 10 years.

“I love parenting, and I just have a passion for misunderstood and hurting children. Being a foster family was just an opportunity to help,” said Wright. “My husband was a pilot, and he could provide financially for us, and I could stay home and give all I had to these kids. We were a good team.”

The Wrights had a history of taking in children who were medically fragile, and that’s why, she suspects, she got the call to take in Baby J. She remembers receiving the heart wrenching request.

“She was born at 4 pounds, and two months later, she was at 4 pounds. Finally, the hospital had decided there was really nothing else they could do for her, and they asked me, ‘Would you be willing to take her into your home and care for her until she passes?’ My husband and I absolutely thought she deserved the chance to be held and rocked and loved before she passed.”

When Baby J, whose actual name is Jayden, arrived at the Wrights’ home, she needed constant attention. The baby was born with 27 illnesses, including being born blind, deaf, diabetic, addicted to cocaine and plagued with neurosyphilis, which left her hands and feet raw and skinless.

“Every day, she was failing more and more. She was so close to death that everything about her was shutting down. The only thing she could manage to do was keep her heart beating,” said Wright.

After just a month at home, nurses told the Wrights that Jayden wouldn’t likely survive many more days. The devastating assessment frightened Wright and her husband — but they also knew that, at that point, there was nothing to lose.

“I thought she was struggling with feedings. She would gag and arch her back (when given formula). So, I found a pediatrician who would approve the use of donated breast milk,” said Wright, who convinced the state to try a breast milk regimen. 

The result was nothing short of miraculous, Wright said, claiming Jayden’s condition improved after the very first feeding. Even her sight and hearing came back to life.

“The pigment in her skin changed. Her eyes became clear and bright. She just became this beautiful little 4-pound baby. She wasn’t gaining any weight, but she was changing completely.”

It took some more time — about 400 doctors’ appointments in just a year and a half — but the breast milk breakthrough led to a surprising diagnosis; on top of Jayden’s other ailments, she had also been born without a pancreas. Her little body couldn’t handle the corn syrup-based formulas that she had been fed.

With that, Jayden was put on a strict regimen that included digestive enzymes, Prevacid and a healthy flow of donated breast milk. The donations flooded in from across the country. Wright said that a donation even came from a woman from Canada, who drove five hours to bring the milk to Lake Orion and see the miracle baby for herself.

Eventually, Jayden grew into a happy little girl who was ready to find a permanent home. The task seemed daunting; not only would a prospective adoptive family need to be willing to care for Jayden’s special medical needs, but they would also need to consider adopting Jayden’s brother, Michael, who at the time had just been born. Luckily, the Wrights were able to find just such a family.

“Our pastor at Kensington Church already had an adopted child. But they just fell in love with her,” said Wright of Mark and Callie Nelson, of Clarkston, Jayden and Michael’s adoptive parents. “When they found out that she had a brother, they said, ‘Well, he’s the bonus baby.’”

“It’s so interesting because I never, ever saw myself as the mother of a medically fragile child. But that’s how I know I’m supposed to be her mom, because I love taking care of her. The first time I met Jayden, there was this connection with her. She’s just such a special little person,” said Callie Nelson, who has a total of seven children, three of whom are adopted.

“She’s a little spitfire. She’s spunky. She has a great vocabulary and a really great sense of humor. You have to think, ‘What if Judy hadn’t given her the love and attention she needed? What if she hadn’t saved her? Then I wouldn’t have my story,” said Callie Nelson.

The families worked together to make the transition easy on Jayden, making sure to keep the bond between her and the Wright family.

“I see her probably once a week. She will go to her mom and say, ‘Mom, I really need to see my Judy.’ I really applaud her parents for allowing that to happen,” said Wright. “We just get in a little hug or do a little singing or whatever. It just seems to work for her. It works for me, I know that.”

She and Jayden are so close that, even when Wright’s husband passed away in November of lung cancer, just as they were receiving their state honor, little Jayden attended the funeral to say goodbye to her “Papa John.”

Through tears, Wright said she’s taking time off from being a foster parent right now to grieve her husband. She knows, though, that she’ll continue to be a part of the program, which has saved so many children in the community. After all, John Wright was the one who often bragged about their foster home to others, saying, “If you don’t believe in God, come to my house, because we see miracles every day.”

“We really were a good team. I don’t think he ever changed a diaper, but he held her and made sure I had something to eat and rubbed my feet while she laid on my chest. So he deserves that award just as much as I do, that’s for sure,” said Wright. “I know that he wants me to continue, as far as recruiting, educating and mentoring. In the meantime, I just really want to encourage others to embrace this opportunity to be able to help a child and give them that unconditional love that every child deserves, in my opinion.”

Today, Judy Wright serves as a spokesperson for the Ennis Center for Children Foster Care Program, educating other on the rights and choices they have as foster parents. Those who want to learn more about being a foster parent can call the center at (248) 334-2715.