By Valarie Waddle
Those of us who have celebrated “social distance” birthdays in the last month are likely doing so for the first time. While Facebook dedications and singing Snaps are always appreciated, there is just something different about not being allowed to have your grandma squeeze your face and threaten to spank you, even at 35. For one Carlsbad teen though, social distance birthdays have been the norm, long before the days of COVID-19.
Julius Mathews, or as most of Carlsbad knows him – Juju, has been celebrating his birthday (and most other days) with immediate family and only a few close friends for the last 3 years. At 15 years old, Juju was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease, Aplastic Anemia. Luckily, Juju’s older brother Jonah was a perfect match and able to donate his bone marrow. Unfortunately, after the transplant Juju was diagnosed with an even more rare condition. Wegener’s disease is another autoimmune disease, affecting the blood vessels in the nose, sinuses, throat, lungs and kidneys. Although treatment can slow the progression and symptoms of the disease, Juju’s case is considered terminal.
“He is a really special boy” says Juju’s mother, Melissa Lane. “I’ve learned so much from him. He is my source of strength. We are thankful for every day that we have with him, he is such a blessing.”
Despite the prognosis, Juju remains positive through every treatment and procedure. According to Lane, Juju continually impresses his family and medical staff with his optimism.
“If this is what God intended for me, I just have to make the best of it.” Lane attributes her son’s optimism to his unwavering faith, recognizing First United Methodist Church youth pastors Braden and Stormi Ryan as devoted influences to Juju and other members of the Catalyst youth group.
For Juju and his family, every birthday is a milestone and a reason to celebrate. Because Juju has been considered immunocompromised since his initial diagnosis, birthday celebrations have only included household members, until this year. For Juju’s 18th birthday his girlfriend, Ashlynn Palma, organized a parade to celebrate the occasion. The Palma family “hosted” the surprise parade with a meal, for Juju and his family, and a designated lawn chair for Juju to observe his “guests” as they drove by. Party goers honked and waved, some held “Happy Birthday” signs, and others released balloons as they passed the guest of honor.
“I was very surprised,” stated Juju of the party, “I knew I couldn’t have a birthday party but the parade was just as good and special.”
“It felt so good to see everyone show up for his birthday parade, it shows that he is still remembered and it’s comforting. I feel like I am not going through this alone” stated Lane of the celebration. Although the last 3 years have been the most difficult time in their lives, Lane and her family recognize the value of community support and believe Carlsbad truly has the best support around. “The community has been so incredible, so supportive. Yesterday reminded me, I was crying as people drove by because I realized how much my son is loved and how much of a difference he has made with his story.”
“I’d like to thank everyone for their continued support and prayers” adds Juju.
For videos of Juju’s birthday parade and to follow along with his journey, you can follow “Juju’s Journey Continues” on Facebook.