License To Live
License to Live
The first day of November 2011 dawned crisp and clear. Jordan Christman, 19, roused himself and dressed for what would be a full morning. By 8:15 a.m., the lanky teen was at Good Shepherd’s Health & Technology Center in Allentown for an evaluation and training in preparation for his driver’s license test later in the week. An hour of physical therapy followed in neurorehabilitation, then another hour of warm water therapy, with another 60 minutes of yoga before wrapping it up with 30 minutes of working out in the Optimal Fitness gym.
“Therapy comes first,” says his father Dave. “Rain, sleet, snow. Any time we miss is only if he’s sick and then we always make it up…He’ll take a nap on the way home.”
For father and son, and in fact, the entire family, mother Wendy and brother Dalton, 17, life changed dramatically on October 2, 2010. No one would be more affected than Jordan, then 18 years old, who wound up in a hospital, paralyzed and fighting for his life.
“I had chest pain all day,” Jordan recalls. “I took a shower that night and the pain traveled up my left elbow, around the back of my head and to my right elbow.”
Jordan had never experienced anything like it before. It was excruciating. His parents rushed him from their home in Parryville, Carbon County, to the emergency room of their local hospital. Jordan’s condition continued to rapidly deteriorate. Within five hours, he couldn’t move his arms and legs, and he began going into respiratory failure.
“I don’t know if he knew how close he was…” Dave says, his voice trailing off, not wanting to express his worst fears.
Jordan was quickly transferred to a larger hospital with more medical resources. Diagnosing the cause of Jordan’s illness, transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord caused by a viral infection, would prove difficult. “They took 60 vials of blood and they still didn’t know,” says Wendy, a nurse whose experience coupled with her mother’s instinct, would prove vitally important in her son’s medical odyssey.
Jordan was given massive doses of steroids which caused severe acne all over his body. Still, a definitive diagnosis was elusive. After about a week, he was airlifted to a third hospital in Philadelphia where doctors made the diagnosis. The only thing he could move was his head. He was put on a ventilator and two feeding tubes. He received two blood transfusions and seven treatments of plasmapherisis, a blood purification process. The prognosis was not encouraging.
“They thought he would never walk again, that he would be a quadriplegic and on a ventilator the rest of his life,” says Dave.
Days turned into weeks. Wendy, who works split shifts, and Dave, who works into the wee hours of the morning in a warehouse, juggled the demands of their jobs with overnight stays to be near Jordan. Wendy drew on her nursing experience to help her son through the bewildering medical complexities. “I explained everything to Jordan before anything was done to him so he understood, and I gave him many pep talks so he wouldn’t become depressed through it all, and he never did,” she says.
Still, another battle emerged. Wendy’s vigilant eye detected something was wrong with Jordan’s stomach. Her insistence led to Jordan getting a computer tomography (CT) scan which revealed one of his feeding tubes had separated from inside his stomach, leaving a large hole contaminated by bile. Jordan was rushed to emergency surgery that night. “A mom always knows when something is wrong with her children,” says Wendy.
After six weeks, Jordan progressed enough to go to a rehabilitation facility in Philadelphia, where he was given six weeks of therapy. By then, he wanted one thing: to be home in time for Christmas, which he was. Still, he needed to continue with aggressive outpatient therapy. Dave and Wendy knew exactly where he should go. “We started discussing places to take him and Good Shepherd is the top,” says Dave.
Sue Golden, director of neurorehabilitation at Good Shepherd, remembers when Jordan began therapy in January 2010. He arrived in a wheelchair, weak and thin, having lost 50 pounds off his six-foot frame and weighing only 130 pounds. In her 30 years as a therapist, Sue has seen only five cases of transverse myelitis. “I’ve never seen a great outcome,” she says.
Jordan was about to change that for Sue and his therapy team who have been privileged to watch a remarkable recovery. Physical therapist assistant, Dori Billowitch, says Jordan has progressed by leaps and bounds, refusing to give in to the spasms that rack his legs. “When he first started, he couldn’t stand at all,” she says. “I think he tolerated just a few minutes in the standing frame.
But he picked it up quickly and soon got into braces. His goal has always been to walk. He’s come farther than anyone ever thought.”
Wendy and Dave also have high praise for the Good Shepherd team that pushed, encouraged and wheedled Jordan to get where he is. “They’re more than just therapists, they’re friends,” says Dave, who accompanies Jordan to therapy three days a week. “He looks forward to coming here. We both do.”
Today Jordan walks with a walker or a single-point cane and is taking classes at Lehigh Carbon Community College. As his strength returned, one of his first orders of business was to get his driver’s license back. For his high school graduation in 2010, David and Wendy bought Jordan a 2008 Dodge Daytona RT Charger. Jordan enjoyed the car for an all-too-brief period of time before getting sick. Working with driver training specialist Colette Heffernan in Good Shepherd’s Safe Driver Evaluation and Training Program, Jordan passed his driver’s test on November 3, 2011.
His focus on his future is as single-minded as ever. “I want to get back to the way I was before,” he says as he tackles another set of lateral pull downs in the Optimal Fitness gym.
As Jordan works his way towards recovery and his dream of becoming a state trooper his family’s steadfast love and sacrifices have been the bedrock of his success. Brother Dalton stays with Jordan in the evening when their parents are at work. Dave brings Jordan to all his therapies, enjoying watching his son’s progress. And Wendy works many extra hours to be able to pay for things not covered by insurance, such as yoga.
“Everyone in our family has had to pitch in and do their part,” says Wendy. “It’s what a family does and with no complaints. It is very important for Jordan to have everything he needs to keep progressing like he has so when all is said and done, we did everything we could possibly do for our son to get better.”
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