Back on solid ground: After brush with death, lineman returns to action

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, September 29, 2018
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Climbing Back

CLIMBING BACK – After spending a week in the hospital in July in Colorado suffering from high-altitude pulmonary edema, Keaton Jordan is back on the field for the Decatur Eagles. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Standing on the field for homecoming last week, Keaton Jordan relished every second.

“It was a great experience. I’ve never felt anything like that with the crowd,” said the Decatur junior offensive lineman.

Even the Eagles’ loss couldn’t damper his spirits. A few months earlier this homecoming didn’t seem likely as he fought for his life in a Colorado hospital.

BACK IN THE GAME – Decatur junior Keaton Jordan spent a week in the hospital in July battling high-altitude pulmonary edema. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The 5-10, 270-pound lineman traveled to Colorado to hike, camp and Jeep in the mountains with his father Dan and the rest of his family in early July. After a night in a cabin in Ouray, he went with his aunt and younger brother to camp in the mountains between 8,000 and 9,000 feet above sea level.

On his first night in the mountains, Keaton fought an unusual coughing fit.

“I don’t think I slept at all, maybe an hour total,” he recalled. “But every 10 seconds I was coughing up like clear spit. I didn’t think much about it.

“When I woke up the next morning, my aunt was like ‘who was that up coughing all night?’ That morning I didn’t feel very good. I felt lightheaded and then throughout the day it got worse.”

Thinking it could possibly be an upper respiratory ailment, his father picked up a prescription for a coughing pill and inhaler in Montrose, 45 minutes away. The pill alleviated the coughing, but Keaton still didn’t feel right as he labored for breaths.

When the rest of their party came back, they noticed that Keaton’s condition seemed worse. Keaton’s body temperature was below normal and his fingers, lips and toes all started to become discolored.

Dan took Keaton to the emergency room in Montrose. It didn’t take long for them to realize the severity of the situation.

“His oxygen level was real low, and they immediately put him on oxygen,” Dan Jordan said. “He was in a wheelchair, and they wheeled him in and they put the pulse [oximeter] on his finger, and did one or two things. We weren’t there two minutes and immediately they rushed him back to a room. It was a trauma situation at that point.”

Jordan was diagnosed with high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), a life-threatening condition where fluid accumulates in the lungs. Headaches are often the first symptom, according to the Mayo Clinic, followed by shortness of breath, coughing, difficulty walking, fever, fatigue, irregular heartbeat and chest discomfort. Without care, HAPE can be fatal.

Dan said from information they gathered from doctors was that sleeping at altitude brought on the condition.

Keaton’s mother, Trish Dillard, is a medic with Wise County EMS. She explained when you sleep you don’t take deep breaths.

“When you’re sleeping, you’re more shallow breathing,” Dillard said. “If the alveoli are not moving, they become idle. Then you’re not moving air and start filling up with fluid, which is what pulmonary edema is.”

Dan Jordan said Keaton’s muscle mass also likely played a role.

There was also concern about an enlarged heart.

Several hours after arriving at the Montrose hospital, it was determined Keaton needed to be moved to Denver for more urgent, critical care at Children’s Hospital – five hours away from the rest of the family in Ouray.

“When we got to Denver, we were immediately taken to ICU,” Dan Jordan said. “There was probably 18 medical staff waiting for us when we got into that room. It’s pretty intense at this point.”

Keaton was put on a ventilator and sedated.

As family members packed up dogs and camping equipment to join Dan and Keaton in the Denver area, Dan’s mother called Dillard, who was in Decatur. Knowing the severity of the situation, she headed to the airport to fly to Colorado.

Her flight was delayed and ultimately canceled adding to her anxiety. She was able to get to Denver midday Sunday after the delays.

“If I’d left when I got the call, we could’ve got there faster driving than by plane,” Dillard said.

In the back of her mind as she boarded the plane, she feared the worst.

“What I got on the phone, I knew wasn’t good,” she said. “Honestly, when I flew out I wasn’t for sure when I got to Denver that I would see my son alive.”

Once in Denver, tests ruled out an enlarged heart. But the first 72 hours proved to be a stressful waiting game for test results.

As various members of the family gathered in Denver around Dan, Keaton’s teammates, classmates, friends and strangers, hundreds of miles away in Decatur, prayed for him to pull through.

“The football booster club sent out everyone pray for Keaton and sent out updates,” Dan Jordan said. “They had football camp, and every morning Coach [Mike] Fuller led them in prayer for Keaton.”

Dillard added: “Our phones were blowing up, a lot of people knew. People were texting you out of the blue that we’re praying for you. To see the community come together for one kid that some didn’t even know … A whole lot of people were praying for him, and it wasn’t just here. The power of prayer was showing for us that week.”

Two days after being flown to Denver, the family started receiving positive news. The worry about an enlarged heart had been ruled out. The symptoms of HAPE also began to lessen as swelling throughout Keaton’s body started to decrease, along with the fluids in his lungs.

“It was Monday when we figured things were starting to get better,” Dan Jordan said. “But there were tests that took 72 hours, and we were in a waiting game. At that point, Keaton started getting a little more agitated. He’d take my phone, and I’d have to hold it up for him. He had IVs in his arms and neck. He’d take my phone and tap on it questions.”

Keaton remained in ICU for two more days, but started a rapid improvement, being taken off the ventilator.

“It was a crazy turnaround,” Dillard said. “He went from not knowing if he was going to make it to they were talking about taking his ventilator out the next morning. He responded so well to all the treatment.”

Keaton received even better news in that despite all the inflamation and fluids in his lungs, there would be no long-term effects.

“My big concern was, what was his long-term prognosis?” Dillard recalled. “Is this something that is going to affect him forever? Is he going to have breathing problems? Sports, is he going to be able to do that?”

The only long-term affect was that he will have to take medication before flying or going to higher altitude.

On Friday, July 20, a week after being flown to Denver in critical condition, he was released from the hospital. The only hiccup was that he was not allowed to fly home. He had to make the long car ride back to North Texas.

Amazingly, just three days after being released from the hospital, Keaton was at Decatur High School running with fellow lineman Morgan Picha.

“At first I was worried about how I was going to feel or if I was going to be able to make it,” Keaton said. “But once I started running, it didn’t bother me. I just got tired real easy. But nothing out of the ordinary.”

When the Eagles hit the practice field at midnight Aug. 6, Keaton was on the field with his teammates.

“I was glad that I was able to practice because I didn’t know how it was going to affect me,” Keaton said. “Once I got started, there were no problems.”

Since he returned to practice, Coach Fuller said he hasn’t noticed any difference in Keaton’s play or effort.

“The whole time he was in the hospital, we were keeping up by text messages, and it was pretty scary,” Fuller said. “You can’t tell any difference now. He doesn’t say much, but he’s out there doing his best every day.”

After the scare and return, Keaton is grateful for the chance to play and join his teammates on the field that he credits with helping to pull him through.

“What helped me through was definitely my teammates. A lot of people were texting me and a few sent gift baskets,” Keaton said. “It’s good to know they have my back and I can trust them. I hope I can do the same for them if they ever get into trouble.”

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