Giving thanks for life
And she sounds like one too.
She doesn’t like vegetables. “Not at all,” she says, emphasizing her dislike for anything green, crunchy or leafy.
“I like ramen noodles,” she adds quickly, as if instant noodles can provide balance to her dietary preferences.
Despite her birthday still being four months away, she gets excited talking about the party she will throw herself – a “teen dance,” she explains.
“It’ll just be music, snacks, movies and stuff,” she says, suddenly a bit self-conscious.
“I don’t like cleaning my room,” she adds after another pause with a girlish giggle.
And she loves her dad, her grandma and her dog, Molly Brown.
“Very much” she says.
Her optimism, her exuberance, her ability to find joy in small things betray the tough periods that have punctuated her life ever since she was a toddler.
Jordyn Driver, who lives in Eagle with her father, David Driver, and her grandmother Versiellen Driver, has tested positive for HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus that can lead to AIDS, or acquire immunodeficiency syndrome. Her mother, KariAnn Driver, died only eight months after she was diagnosed tested positive for HIV in 1993. It is unclear how the young woman contracted the virus. Just eight months before her death, she hadn’t shown any symptoms.
Versiellen Driver describes her late daughter-in-law as “one in a million.”
“She was one of those people that are extremely funny and just have tons of friends. Wherever she went she always seemed to have a flock behind her,” says the 64-year-old, full-time grandmother, artist, former journalist and substitute teacher.
David Driver’s tested negative, but his daughter Jordyn, a sweet 3-year-old, is now not only half an orphan but also the victim of one of the deadliest epidemic diseases that has spread across the globe with shocking speed, starting in the 1980s. Her mother had transmitted it to her at birth.
“She was given a year or two; nine they said would be a miracle. She is a miracle and a half now,” says the grandmother, Jordyn’s ever-caring nurse, most tenacious advocate and tireless agent against insurance claims.
“I learned that if I fax them 38-pages of documentation at 4 in the morning and do this for 11 days and won’t go away, they will listen,” Versiellen says of the close to $500,000 Jordyn’s medical care has cost to this day.
David Driver, his mother says, says, is being penalized for not abandoning his daughter.
“She could be on Medicare if he had abandoned her,” Versiellen says.
Instead, David Driver, a plumber, is learning to be an electrician, working to have insurance coverage so he can afford $120 a month in co-pay expenses for medication.
Jordyn Driver, meanwhile, is better than she has ever been since her mom died. Instead of a complicated 22-pills-a-day regiment of past years, she takes on medication twice a day and sees her doctor at Children’s Hospital in Denver once every other month.
“This is the best she has ever been since KariAnn died,” her grandmother says.
A year ago, Jordyn was fighting for her life. She weighed less than 90 pounds and suffered from a painful infection of the brain that left her listless and lethargic for most of the school year. She spend more time in hospitals than in class while her father and grandmother feared for the worst.
“She was a bone; there was nothing to her. I used to be afraid to hug her,” Versiellen Driver remembers. “It was like feeding her with a dropper and cheering her on every time she managed to keep something down,” she says, her voice suddenly thick from the memory.
“Now she is a regular bruiser, 140 pounds at 5 foot 4 (inches),” the grandmother says proudly. “Her feet are so big she wears a nine.”
Nowadays, Jordyn attends school regularly and considers going to Girl Scouts a privilege as she puts down roots in small-town Eagle.
She doesn’t consider herself all that different from other girls her age.
“I wear a dress at least once a week,” she says of her strategy meant to fend off a tomboy label – despite the fact she loves to fish with her uncle, who is showing her how to shoot a gun, too.
“I’m not really that different,” she says, suddenly sounding mature beyond her age. “I may have a disease but that is about it.”
In fact, having HIV means little risk for others in terms of being infected, her grandmother points out.
“People think that it is dangerous to be around people with HIV,” she says. “Actually it is more dangerous for her to be around people, because her immune system is compromised.”
After facing eviction in Las Vegas because Jordyn cut herself in their apartment complex’s pool, David Driver decided to move to Eagle to work for his brother-in-law. It has allowed Jordyn to grow up in a small community he says “has heart.”
His mother, who cared for Jordyn since her mother’s death, followed close behind.
Being open about a disease typically transmitted sexually has been a decision the Drivers haven’t regretted.
“Statistics show that almost everyone in the United States has been touched by HIV,” Versiellen says. “But people still want to pretend that it isn’t happening.”
Jordyn Driver, her grandmother writes in one letter she has sent to friends and family, “is not a secret.”
David Driver makes no secret of his attachment to his daughter after becoming a widower.
“For one she calls me “Maddy’ because I’m her mom and her daddy,” David Driver says. “I’d rather spend time with her than anyone else, but I have to share her with my mother and my sister. The experience of losing her mother and her battling this disease has made us really close.”
David Driver says he is grateful this Thanksgiving Day for his daughter’s renewed health “and that we finally get to live in Colorado. I’m thankful to the people here. Everyone has been really nice to us and I’m really glad that we moved up here,” he says.
Versiellen Driver says she is grateful to once again have a granddaughter who “will run until their feet bleed.”
Jordyn Driver’s list is longer, however. She is careful not to leave anyone out, grateful to have her daddy, her grandma, her uncle and aunt.
She says she feels blessed to have a friend like her best friend Rachael.
She looks forward to a big family turkey dinner at her grand-aunt’s home on the Front Range.
She is grateful to have a dog like Molly Brown.
After a brief pause, Jordyn Driver offers the kind thanks only a person faced with a life-threatening disease can say with such simple sincerity.
“I’m grateful to be alive,” she says her voice small but strong. “I’m really grateful to be alive.”
Care with a card
What: Greeting cards designed by Jordyn, a 12-year-old girl born with HIV.
Why: To help defray cost of Jordyn’s medical expenses.
How much: Four cards for $5.
Where: Sold in stores including Lights on Broadway, Just Cuts and Mountain Kids in Eagle, and Verbatim Bookstore in Vail. Order them over the phone or via e-mail by calling (970) 904-1819 or by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Cash donations can be made on Jordyn Driver’s behalf at Alpine Bank in Eagle or to the Vail Valley Charitable Fund.
For more information, call Kate Carey at the Vail Valley Charitable Fund at 328-3863.
Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at email@example.com.