When hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and tourists pass through Times Square on Sept. 14, they will be able to catch a glimpse of 11-year-old Micah Ward of Lodi.
Ward, who was born with Down Syndrome, is one of 500 people who were chosen to be featured in a video presentation to kick off the National Buddy Walk. The event is held annually by the National Down Syndrome Society to spread awareness of Down Syndrome, a genetic disorder that alters a person’s mental development and physical characteristics.
Every year, the NDSS asks people all across the world to send in pictures of their loved ones with Down Syndrome to be featured on a big screen in the heart of New York City. The society receives about 3,000 pictures each year and out of that 500 are selected for the presentation.
Ward’s mother Nina has been submitting photographs of her son every year since he was born, and his picture was finally selected.
“It’s a picture of him in front of Disneyland, and he happened to have a shirt that says ‘future’ on it. And he’s just going ‘ta-da, here I am,’ ” Nina said. “It kind of represents this is our future. Micah has a future. He belongs in this world and he does things just like everybody else, so the face of the future looks diverse with different people and different abilities.”
Nina said she wants to share Micah’s story with the world and thought what better opportunity than to have his picture displayed in front of thousands of people in Times Square.
“I just thought this would be a great opportunity for Micah to show the world he’s special, he’s unique,” she said.
The presentation will be flashed on a large jumbotron in Times Square and then followed by the Buddy Walk in Central Park. About 20,000 to 30,000 people are estimated to attend the National Buddy Walk, Nina said.
Nina, Micah and his dad Robert plan to travel to New York to see his picture displayed and attend the Buddy Walk.
“It’s a good experience for him to travel, and when you get to these events you see other families with kids with Down Syndrome,” Nina said. “It’s just a great community of people. You kind of feel like you belong. Like you’re in your tribe. It’s awesome. We’re just really excited about it.”
Nina is currently trying to raise funds for their trip. She has set up a GoFundMe page for those interested in supporting Micah: https://www.gofundme.com/f/micah-nyc-buddy-walk?member =&utm_medium=email&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_email%2Binvitesupporters
Following the National Buddy Walk, other events are held locally in cities all across the United States. Nina and Micah are part of an organization known as The Brighter Side of Down Syndrome, which host a Buddy Walk on Oct. 19 at Micke Grove Park from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Nina encourages people looking to get involved to visit the Brighter Side of Down Syndrome website at www.tbods.org and register with Team Micah for the local Buddy Walk.
Micah is the youngest of four children and came as a surprise to Nina and Robert who got pregnant with him when she was 40 years old. Micah is a survivor, already having undergone two open heart surgeries to correct heart defects.
“He is a miracle. Fifty percent of children with Down Syndrome have heart defects,” Nina said.
Micah loves music and is big fan of the “Phantom of the Opera.” He loves to make people smile and laugh, Nina said, and adores his older siblings. He is a student in the Lodi Unified School District and in his spare time he enjoys riding his quad and spending time with his friend Aneleah, who also has Down Syndrome.
“He is charmer, and this kid is ... the only word I could think of is magical,” Nina said. “I can’t describe it. Anybody that meets Micah, they fall in love with him. He makes everybody feel special.
“Every day is a celebration and he loves to celebrate people. He has literally changed my family’s life for the better. None of us can imagine our lives without Micah.”
She wants people to know that people with Down Syndrome have worth and value just like anybody else.
“Having Down Syndrome is not a death sentence,” Nina said. “It’s actually such a blessing for the people who are blessed to have them in their lives.”