HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — She was born with a nearly nonexistent immune system, but that hasn’t stopped 2-year-old Jada Elenbaas from making history.
At 7 months old in April 2017, she became the first child in Michigan to survive a thymus transplant.
Jada was born without one, so just a few germs could be deadly to the Hudsonville toddler. That means her family has kept Jada and themselves in a tight bubble. They have virtually no visitors, not even family members.
“Sickness is a huge deal because she can’t fight off any sickness at all,” Michael Elenbaas, Jada’s father, told 24 Hour News 8 via Skype Thursday. “Anything that comes in, groceries (or) anything, we wipe down everything because it’s so critical.”
Jada’s mother Amanda Elenbaas said doctors noticed abnormalities when Jada was a week old. She was later diagnosed with complete DiGeorge syndrome, a chromosomal disorder. Jada couldn’t produce T-cells, which meant she didn’t have an immune system.
There were several hurdles as they raced to get the thymus transplant. The procedure isn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration, so there were months of insurance battles.
“I think they told us it was around $900,000 if we wanted to pay for it ourselves,” Amanda Elenbaas recalled.
Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids helped out greatly.
“We’re very lucky to have Helen DeVos so close,” Amanda Elenbaas said.
“We relied on them a lot to fight for us and they did,” her husband added.
Jada has made huge strides despite the hand she was dealt. Because of the transplant, her body recently started producing T-cells for the first time since she was born.
Still, her immune system is fragile. Even nearly two years post-surgery, the family takes strict precautions every day. Jada’s brother Odyn, 4, doesn’t go to preschool. Family members rarely are invited to the house. When they are, they’re limited to the yard or garage and they still have to wear masks and gloves.
“We just don’t let anyone in our house because Jada is crawling around and putting her hands in her mouth so you just have to be really careful,” her mom said.
It was a huge change for their close-knit family.
After work, Michael Elenbaas leaves his coat and backpack in the garage. He uses hand sanitizer before entering, rushes to the shower, disinfects his glasses and wipes down his phone before doing anything else.
While it’s not always easy, Jada’s parents said she’s showing progress that she will one day be able to get out into the world and fight infections.
They’re in it for the long haul.
“A lot of it’s just a habit now,” Jada’s dad said. “Our mindset has changed where it’s like, the world is a dirty place.”
The Elenbaas family posts updates on their Facebook page, Little Miss Jada’s Journey.