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Murphy track athlete put to the test

The Andrews Journal - 4/12/2018

This might be her first Special Olympics, but Jordan Oliver is far from intimidated.

In fact, "I'm excited," Jordan said.

The sixth-grade Murphy Middle School student has been making waves since joining the Lady Bulldogs track team this season, inspiring athletes and spectators alike with her shot put and discus throw performances. At the upcoming Far West Special Olympics, which will be held April 27 at Murphy High School, Oliver is penciled in to compete in the 25-meter wheelchair race.

Indeed, the stars are bright for the 12-year-old athlete. But things like shot put, discus throw and wheelchair sprints are minuscule for Oliver, who has faced bigger challenges in life than any athletic event could ever provide.

Fifteen months old

Jamie and Kristie Oliver noticed something was wrong when Jordan was just into her second year of life.

"At 15 months old, we noticed issues," Kristie said. "We started seeing numerous specialists, went through autism testing and different things. She was finally diagnosed with Mild Intellectual Disability. There were some fine motor skills issues, as well, so all she's ever known is physical and occupational therapy."

The impairment also affects cognitive skills and can interfere with social development. Weakness in her hands and wrist still tamper with simple things like holding a pen properly or zipping a coat. But at best, the diagnosis was a minor hiccup that could easily be managed.

Little did the Oliver family know that the biggest challenge was yet to come.

Ejecting the CD

It was April 28, 2011. Then five years old, Jordan was busy packing for a family trip to Pigeon Forge with her sister Kelia. She decided she wanted to take a compact disc out of the player in her mom's Chevrolet.

The car had been experiencing some unusual electrical and mechanical issues. Just one week prior, it had been repaired after suddenly shutting off while in motion, but was sitting silently in the driveway.

Without touching any gears, Jordan inserted the key and waited for the CD to eject. Chevrolet vehicles inserted a mechanism many years ago to prevent a car from coming out of gear while turned off.

A malfunction occurred. The car began to roll and plunged off a 40-foot embankment, before coming to a rest on its top.

Jordan crawled out of the car as her parents rushed to check on her. She walked up to her dad, covered in a mixture of some recently-devoured chocolate ice cream and blood. As the adrenaline began to wear off, Jordan looked at her dad and uttered the words no parent ever wants to hear.

"I can't feel my legs." Then, she collapsed.

The aftermath

Airlifted to Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga, the Oliver family quickly found themselves involved with more chaos. A tornado had just swept through nearby Ringgold, Ga. the day before, so the hospital was packed and hectic.

Within 24 hours, Jordan regained use of her arms, which initially were unresponsive. Her C1, C2, C6 and C7 vertebrae were fused back together, the result of a severe whiplash during the accident.

"The steering wheel was bent into the dash," Kristie explained. "They think that her head whipped forward and whipped back so violently, it pulled the spinal cord and ruptured blood vessels."

A few days later, she was transferred to Scottish Rite in Atlanta, which became her home until October of 2011. There, it was discovered she also had a collapsed lung. Once she made it back to Cherokee County, Jordan was quickly hospitalized again at Murphy Medical Center, this time for dehydration. But after a few days, she was out of the hospital and started to work on the road to recovery.

The end result was a hematoma on her spinal cord, which only heals about one inch per year. The severity of the hematoma could mean a 20-year healing process, but after discovering she had neuromuscular scoliosis that was forged by the paralysis, surgery was performed on April 27, 2017, that might just expedite the process. She coded twice from shock in post-op at Shriner's Hospital for Children in Greenville, S.C., but true to her mantra, fought through and survived.

Today

Thanks to last year's procedure, which corrected the scoliosis curve from 125 percent to five, Jordan can now move her legs voluntarily and with the use of a Reciprocating Gait Orthosis (RGO), she can walk. She still has to build up the leg strength and the recovery is far from over, but the outlook is positive.

One year to the date after a potentially life-altering surgery, Jordan will compete in the Special Olympics.

How fitting for the girl that has worked with coaches, physical education teachers and countless therapists to build up not only a strong upper body, but an even stronger desire to walk again.

The Lady Bulldogs have been really receptive to the addition of Jordan to the shot put and discus events, which has made the transition back into public school much smoother.

"She's been homeschooled for the last five years. But the worst is behind us, so it's time," Kristie said. "She's been around, but she hasn't been able to spend time with her classmates. Plus, we promised we would get her on the track team if she went back to school."

With a smile, she added, "It's been going really good."

 
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