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Jordyn

Caramie Schnell

In some ways, she is like any other 14-year-old girl from Eagle bright smile, rosy cheeks; her hair is carefully plaited into braids woven by a good friend. And she wants to go to college, when the time comes, to study marine biology.A passerby would never know that Jordyn (the family’s last name will not be used at her request) takes 15 pills a day, that she’s come close to death three different times, or that she is HIV-positive.Jordyn’s exuberance for life comes in her ability to find joy in the small things: her friends at school, her dog Molly, the fact that she feels well enough to go to school full time. This is how she endures the tough times that have punctuated life for her as far back as she can remember.”I don’t really remember when they told me (I had HIV),” Jordyn says. “I remember that I went in for surgery for a gland infection shortly after I had been diagnosed.”Jordyn was diagnosed with HIV, or Human Immuno-deficiency Virus, when she was a chubby-cheeked three year old with bright blue eyes. Her mother, KariAnn was diagnosed first. Soon afterward, Jordyn and her father David were also tested. David tested negative, Jordyn: positive.KariAnn died four-months after blood tests revealed she was suffering from full-blown AIDS, with a very low T-cell count of 38. She was 27-years-old. After KariAnn was diagnosed with the disease, her own family pulled away from her. It’s unclear to this day how she contracted the disease.”My mom’s family basically abandoned her when they found out she was HIV-positive,” Jordyn says. “It is kind of hard to see people who have moms, but I think, you know, I had three years with her and that was significant. I remember trying to cheer her up because she was sick. We’d get a smile every once and awhile.”From the beginningOriginally Jordyn’s family was told their angelic little girl probably wouldn’t live to attend Kindergarten. As her family says, “The doctors gave her one to two years when she was diagnosed God gave her longer.”Jordyn’s grandmother Versiellen moved from Florida to take care of KariAnn when she was sick and stayed in order to be with Jordyn. After living in Las Vegas for eight years, Versiellen and Jordyn’s dad, David, decided to move to Eagle.”People pretty much abandoned us (in Las Vegas), church, friends, everything,” Versiellen remembers. “It was a horrible eight years. I think if we had been in a strange city, it would have been easier to adapt because we were just shocked every time it happened. The minister actually said to me, ‘you’re a troublemaker.’ We were tremendously alone there.”Jordyn made the move to the valley when she was 11 years old, right before a nightmarish set of health problems began.”I moved here and my world just crumbled beneath me,” Jordyn says.In 2001 Jordyn’s dad took her to Vail Valley Medical Center after she began complaining of a severe headache. A CT scan revealed spots on Jordyn’s brain and the two were sent to The Children’s Hospital in Denver.”When her mother was sick and went into the hospital with pneumonia they waited to see what she had before she was treated,” Versiellen says. “That’s not the way they treat it today, they treat it as everything and then sort it out. She had a brain fungus desert toxic fungus, they call it desert fever.”It was The Children’s Hospital’s first case of the rare infection, since it is usually found in people in a desert setting. Jordyn may have contracted it back when she was living in Nevada and could have carried it for years in her body, nobody was really sure.”HIV or not, you have to be on medication for it for the rest of your life,” Versiellen says.Only three weeks later Jordyn had recovered well enough to go on a trip with her Girl Scout troop to Kansas. All was well until the last day of the trip. The med-a-port that had been implanted at the hospital weeks before had become infected and Jordyn’s health worsened dramatically in a matter of a few hours. Jordyn, along with her grandmother, was flown in an air ambulance back to The Children’s Hospital. The staph infection from the port quickly turned into Toxic Shock Syndrome. Her blood pressure had dipped dangerously low and for the second time that summer, Jordyn’s family feared the worst.”She had a tray with little valves sitting across her chest,” Versiellen remembers. She had double IV’s in each arm and also in each ankle. When they moved her to that private room in intensive care, I remember thinking I wasn’t going to see her alive again. David and I used to argue, we’re a passionate family what can I say. Jordyn used to hate it, now she knows it is just part of life. I told him to give me a big kiss as we were walking into her room. I remember thinking if this is the last thing she ever sees, I want her to see us loving each other.”It was the only time I’ve ever seen David break down, he had to leave the room, he just crumbled.”In her typical courageous manner, Jordyn fought back and after eight days, was released to her family.Even though Jordyn was insured, her medical bills for 2001 exceeded $600,000, something the family was just able to pay off recently.”That was 2001 and we just paid it off. It’s never ending though,” Versiellen says, “she goes every other month, sometimes every week to Denver.”David, she says, is being penalized for not abandoning his daughter. If he had, Jordyn would be on Medicare and the financial burden would be drastically reduced.Versiellen acted as Jordyn’s own personal secretary after the ordeal, dealing with all of the different insurance issues and the 42 different entities that were involved from the flight-for-life to the Emergency Room she visited in Kansas before she was flown back to Denver.”It was a full-time job,” Versiellen says. “Finally by Christmas I was ready for a nervous breakdown. I swear, one day God just spoke to me, so finally I said, ‘My office hours are from 7 11 a.m., Monday through Thursday, call then.’ It was amazing because people really respected that. They say angels and God speak to you if you just listen.”A normal lifeToday Jordyn is a freshman at Eagle Valley High School. Her goal, after such a tumultuous middle school career, was to attend school full-time.”When I went to sixth grade, well I didn’t really go to sixth grade,” Jordyn says. “I went to lunch and sometimes to band. In seventh grade I went less than half a day.”So far, Jordyn has not only met her goal, she’s exceeded it. First, she has never missed a grade, despite missing so much school. She made up the work and was never held back. Now, on top of going to school full-time, two or three nights a week Jordyn attends practice after school for the school’s upcoming Beauty and the Beast production. On Dec. 1, in honor of World AIDS Day, Jordyn was one of three HIV-positive children featured on Nickelodeon.”It was really cool, the video turned out wonderful. They filmed for three days and it’s like, ‘Where the heck did those three days go?’ It only ended up being 15 or 20 minutes or so.”From the beginning Jordyn’s family vowed to stay very open about her illness. They believe that it’s extremely important for everyone to know because it’s “no longer a disease that happens to other people.””The reason we chose to be public,” Versiellen says, “is because people think it happens to black kids, to Haitians, to all the people they don’t like. And here’s this beautiful blonde child with it. We even took her to a pediatric cancer/hemophiliac/HIV specialist because she was sick so often. He didn’t even test her for HIV because a little blonde, middle-class, non-drug-using family could not possibly have HIV, that was the attitude.”And though there are some people that avoid Jordyn and her family, says Versiellen, no one is mean to them.”When I first moved here there were some people that were skeptical about it and stayed away from me,” Jordyn admits. “I actually have a friend Tori she has been my friend since I moved here. She’s always been supportive. I asked when we met, ‘Do you now what HIV is?’ She said, ‘No, I’ve never heard of it.’ Well, I said, ‘I have HIV,’ and I told her right there, ‘Don’t freak out, it’s not something you can get by hanging out with me or giving me a hug goodbye or anything.'”Jordyn is currently writing a book about her life and her eventual goal is to travel around with her mentor, friend and fellow HIV-patient Phyllis Anderson.”I talked to Phyllis about when I get a little bit older, if I could tour with her to talk about HIV and AIDS,” Jordyn says. “She has HIV too, I thought that it would really be cool to see a teenager go with an adult to talk to other kids, to educate people.”More than anything, Jordyn is grateful to be alive and she’s hopeful for the future, “That’s what I always say to myself, I say, ‘you know what, there is going to be a cure for HIV in my lifetime.'” VTCaramie Schnell can be reached at cschnell@vailtrail.com.To help defray Jordyn’s medical expenses, donations can be made at Alpine Bank in Eagle “On Account of Jordyn.”


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