The Will to Walk Again
UF Health TraumaOne saves a young patient’s life after a severe spinal cord injury.
At first glance, Jordan McClinton looks like an average 18-year-old. He is studying computer engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and is a member of the university’s cheerleading squad. Not many would guess that less than a year ago he was on a ventilator, fighting for his life at UF Health Jacksonville.
A life-changing accident
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Jordan, like many other students across the nation, returned home to complete his classes remotely.
On April 20, 2020, Jordan was practicing flips, when he slipped on the slightly wet grass. Unable to move, Jordan recalls lying there for what felt like a very long time.
Meanwhile, his mother, Vickie McClinton, had been working from home that day.
“Something told me to not go into the office and just stay home,” Vickie said. “I heard a sound and called out to Jordan, but he didn’t answer.”
She ran outside to find her son on the ground, unable to move.
After paramedics were called, Jordan was airlifted to UF Health TraumaOne, the only Level I adult and pediatric trauma center in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia, where they confirmed he had a cervical spinal cord injury.
With cervical spinal cord injuries, the damage is located in the area of the spine near the neck and head. Since this is so close to the brain, these types of spinal cord injuries are often the most severe.
Fortunately for Jordan, UF Health Jacksonville specializes in spinal cord injury care with a highly trained multidisciplinary team and board-certified physicians who focus on management and surgical treatment of spinal conditions.
Upon arrival, Jordan was rushed in emergency surgery for anterior and posterior cervical spine fusion with UF Health neurosurgeon Gazanfar Rahmathulla, MD, medical director of trauma neurosurgery. The procedure was successful, stabilizing his cervical spine and allowing room for swelling, which ultimately saved Jordan from a lifetime of paralysis.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
After the operation, Jordan was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, or PICU, where he underwent a procedure called diaphragm pacing.
“Jordan had a serious cervical spinal cord injury leaving him paralyzed and not able to breathe, so he initially needed the help of a ventilator,” said Brian Yorkgitis, DO, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville, and one of Jordan’s doctors.
With diaphragm pacing, electrodes stimulate the diaphragm’s muscle and nerves, forcing it to contract so air is pulled into the lungs. This can completely eliminate the need for a ventilator, which was eventually the result for Jordan.
And so, Jordan began the long road to recovery. In the beginning, it was hard. Jordan used a chart to spell out words because he couldn’t speak, and staff did what they could to make him comfortable.
Vickie McClinton, Jordan’s mother, said she celebrated every small step her son made during that time and took photos and videos to mark each milestone.
Pressing forward with hope
As time progressed, it became evident Jordan was a fighter and never lost faith he would walk again. With an incredible support system, Jordan remained positive.
Due to certain restrictions during the pandemic, only one visitor was allowed at a time and that was Jordan’s mother. This didn’t stop Jordan’s father, brother and friends from showing their support by calling and sending letters and cards.
The PICU staff were kind and supportive to the McClinton family. In fact, Dominik McClinton, Jordan’s father, recalled their first encounter with Joe Tucker, BSN, RN, nurse manager of the PICU.
Feeling distressed and not wanting to leave Jordan’s side, they had completely forgotten to eat or rest. Tucker gently reminded them to take care of themselves, so they could care for Jordan.
“We have so many incredible staff members who care for our patients in the PICU,” said Tucker. “I focus on providing support for the patients and loved ones who may be feeling overwhelmed.”
A miraculous recovery
Jordan was discharged from UF Health Jacksonville less than a month later to complete rehabilitation back in his home state of Georgia. He spent several months recovering and learning to walk again. By early 2021, about nine months after his injury, Jordan was walking on his own, with the aid of a crutch when needed, and preparing to return to school at Georgia Tech.
“Spinal cord injuries are devastating,” said Yorkgitis. “Jordan returning to school within a year of his injury is unheard of in spinal cord injury patients. It’s a testament to Jordan’s hope and his parents’ support.”
Jordan and his family are forever grateful to the staff at UF Health Jacksonville for saving his life.
“What they do is a passion and a calling, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart,” said Vickie. “Jordan wouldn’t be here today without their help.”
A Night for Heroes
The 14th Annual A Night for Heroes gala looked different than in years past. The event was held in a virtual format on Feb. 6, with almost 150 guests tuning in from the comfort of their own homes. Viewers recognized the lifesaving care the trauma and critical care teams deliver to thousands of patients each year and paid tribute to our health care heroes as the fight against COVID-19 continues.
The event also highlighted UF Health Jacksonville patient Jordan McClinton, whose life was saved by the UF Health TraumaOne team after he sustained a severe spinal cord injury.
Nearly $250,000 was raised and will support the purchase of lifesaving equipment, such as ventilators for intensive care units and the air transport helicopters. A recording of the event can be viewed at UFHealthJax.org/heroes.
Thank you to our gala sponsors!
Golden Hour Sponsor
Crothall Healthcare Technology Solutions
Miller Electric Company
Ascension St. Vincent’s
Charles Perry Partners, Inc.
Pajcic & Pajcic
Russ and Susan Armistead
The Fiorentino Group
Leon L. Haley Jr., MD, MHSA, FACEP, FACHE
McKim & Creed Inc.