VESTABURG — Jordan Chesney was just a boy in kindergarten when he began having persistent headaches.
Doctors thought he was being bothered by allergies, but Jordan’s mother Christy suspected something more sinister was causing her son extreme pain to the point of nausea. She pressed the doctor to find the source of the problem. Finally, an answer was found.
Jordan was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 6. He underwent three surgeries to have the tumor removed. The surgeries were difficult as the tumor had wrapped its way down and around the stem of the brain.
Jordan also developed hydrocephalus, or “water on the brain” as it is more commonly known. A shunt was inserted to remove the build-up of excess fluid, which can cause brain damage if it’s not removed.
The trauma caused to Jordan’s brain came at a price — the loss of the verbal and motor skills he had accumulated as an otherwise healthy child.
“He went from being 6 years old to about 6 months old,” his aunt Ginger Bradley summarized.
Jordan never finished kindergarten. He went into the long process of rehab at Sparrow Hospital, eventually trying to attend classes when possible at Vestaburg Elementary School. He went on to have an estimated 100 shunt surgeries to keep up with his condition.
“One shunt would work for a while and then I’d start getting headaches again,” he recalled.
Jordan and his parents exhausted all resources trying to find relief for their son. They moved out west to Utah for a while to see if the dry climate would help his condition. Jordan’s younger brother Cody stayed behind with relatives.
The arid climate helped Jordan. He was even able to remove all shunts from his brain. But then the headache came back. And so the family moved back to Vestaburg.
Jordan was just starting to enter his teenage years before he began to feel like he had caught up to his rightful age from his initial diagnoses at age 6. But he still had a constant headache, all day, every day.
His parents, Donald and Christy, gave him tough love as part of his support system.
“I learned that I couldn’t stay home from school every day,” Jordan said. “It was really tough to feel like that and go to school, but my mom and dad encouraged me to do my best.”
High school was a challenge, just as every day is a challenge. Jordan couldn’t do anything too physical, so that ruled out sports, but he found enjoyment in art classes. He missed most of the 2011-2012 school year due to hospitalizations and credits Vestaburg High School resource teachers Heather Dawe (who is no longer at the school) and Allison Ritzema for helping him stay on track with his studies.
“There was a lot of things I missed out on, but I also got to participate in a lot of things,” he said.
Jordan was supposed to graduate one year ago, but he was held back one year due to missing so much school. So he was pleasantly surprised when the class of 2012 — which was supposed to be his graduating class — elected him prom king that year.
This Sunday afternoon, Jordan, now a handsome and eloquent 19-year-old — will graduate with Vestaburg High School’s class of 2013.
“There were days we didn’t think he was going to live, much less graduate,” observed his aunt Ginger.
Jordan credits renowned Dr. David Frim of the University of Chicago for keeping him alive all these years. He also credits his parents.
“I’m proud of the young man Jordan has become,” said Christy of her son. “Because of everything he has been through, he always makes the best out of the situation, no matter what it is. When he is sick and in the hospital, he is always more worried about his family instead of himself. He sees how stressful it can be in the family and it really bothers him. With our doctor in Chicago, our family is sometimes separated for weeks or even months. The love and compassion that he has for people and life makes us proud.”
Jordan says he is doing better than ever before these days. However, he still lives with a constant and painful headache. He has short-term memory loss. He has to undergo blood transfusions to replenish his platelets, which are depleted due to the medication he takes to prevent seizures.
“I wonder every day how long am I going to have to live with a headache?” he said. “Am I going to have to go to work like this?”
And so he takes each day as it comes, one at a time. He continues to strengthen a bond between himself and his brother Cody, who is 9 years old. He plans on attending Montcalm Community College this fall and hopes to one day go into the medical field.
“I would like to start a foundation for hydrocephalus to help raise money to find a cure for it so kids don’t have to go through what I go through,” Jordan said.