Jordan Wells is a 19-year-old college freshman with a clear long-term goal: She wants to become a physician’s assistant or a doctor specializing in trauma, then go to work at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
”I’m good friends with the chief surgeon there, and the nurses and staff are like family to me,” said Jordan. “When a patient has to have an amputation the nurses call me to come and visit them. And one of my doctors said that if I decided to apply to med school, he would write me a letter of recommendation.”
Since being injured in a devastating helicopter crash on September 27, 2008, Jordan has undergone more than 20 surgeries and has spent almost as many weeks in the Shock Trauma Center. When the rescue team first brought her in, the list of injuries included a broken cheekbone, nose and eye socket; a broken shoulder blade and compound fracture of the left elbow; a bruised lung; and five, non-displaced fractures in the neck and back. Worst of all, both her legs were shattered below the knee including multiple fractures of her feet and toes. She was in a medically induced coma for 10 days.
Jordan’s story began on a rainy Saturday night when she got together with her best friend Ashley Younger who was home from college for the weekend. While driving back from their former high school’s homecoming celebration, the car hydroplaned across a rain soaked road and collided with an oncoming car. Considering the severity of the accident, a medevac helicopter was summoned to fly the girls to the closest trauma center. After being strapped onto gurneys, Jordan and Ashley were placed on board and the helicopter lifted off into the stormy night. But the medevac flight never arrived at the trauma center. Enveloped in dense fog and driving rain, it crashed in the middle of a heavily wooded area. Of the five people on board, only Jordan survived.
“There are three things I remember about being in the woods,” said Jordan. “I was all alone, I was freezing cold and I was in pain.” The top half of her body was outside the helicopter lying on the cold, wet ground but her legs were trapped inside. She was unable to get herself loose, and after saying a prayer in the darkness, she cried out for help. Three rescue paramedics who were scouring the woods heard Jordan’s cry and came to rescue her.
“After I woke up from the coma, I kept asking my parents about Ashley,” said Jordan. “On the third day my dad went ahead and told me that she died. I hadn’t even realized that she was in the same helicopter I was in. Then, a couple of hours after that, they told me my right leg was going to have to be amputated. I had just heard the worst news--my best friend was dead. After that, I figured I could bear losing a leg.”
Jordan’s right leg was amputated below the knee. Both legs required multiple operations including bone and skin grafts. It’s been a long, steady road to recovery. An initial five weeks in the hospital were followed by three weeks of rehabilitation and numerous other hospital stays for additional surgeries. Jordan used a wheelchair to get around, and when she was able to bear weight on her legs, switched to crutches.
“My first temporary prosthesis was a locking pin system and I got it on Saint Patrick’s Day,” she said. “I still wasn’t allowed to weight-bear but I could wear the prosthesis and get used to how it felt. The first time I stood up on both legs I said ‘Wow---I don’t remember being this tall!’ Being able to walk again felt amazing, like I had been set free.”
A few months later Jordan’s prosthetist, Phil Hewett of Hanger in Annapolis, MD, encouraged her to try a V-Hold prosthesis with vacuum suspension. She can adjust the vacuum suspension throughout the day as the swelling in her residual limb goes up or down. “I definitely prefer the V-hold,” she said. “It’s more comfortable for me.”
In addition to all the medical treatment, Jordan has had several milestone events that have punctuated the past year. On December 27th, 2008, she visited the helicopter crash site for the first time, along with her three rescuers, Mike Perkins, John Preston and Scott Russell. John brought along his newborn daughter, and after giving Jordan the baby to hold he said, “We named her Jordan, after you.”
In May of 2009, at the Shock Trauma Center's Gala, Jordan danced with her three rescuers while wearing her prosthesis. “I’m very close to those three guys now,” said Jordan. “They’re like my older brothers.”
In June she participated in the Endeavor Games, a national athletic competition for people with physical challenges. Jordan’s event was swimming and she earned three medals in the competition.
She commemorated the first anniversary of the accident on September 27, 2009, by posting a tribute to Ashley on the tree at the crash site. Jordan and her three rescuers also went kayaking together as a way to quietly celebrate her recovery.
“I wanted the one year anniversary to be for Ashley more than for myself,” said Jordan. “It’s very bittersweet. It was good that I survived, but then again, it’s terrible that four people lost their lives. On the days I feel depressed, it’s not because of my prosthesis…it’s because Ashley is gone. So I remind myself that I am blessed to be alive, and I focus on my goals for the future and what I think I can achieve.”