After a week and a half in critical condition, a 10-year-old Stanislaus County boy opened his eyes Wednesday for the first time since being taken off life support.
Jordan Stilwell's autism prevents him being able to effectively communicate his thoughts and feelings, so his father had no idea how sick he was when he took Jordan to the emergency room at Memorial Medical Center on Jan. 31. Don Stilwell thought his son had a stomach flu, but it turned out Jordan had pancreatitis caused by gallstones and an infection.
Stilwell said his son is sick about 200 days out of the year because "with autistic children, it is really hard to teach them not to share drinks or put their hands in their mouths."
Stilwell said that because Jordan grew up with his parents and teachers asking him if he's OK, one of the few phrases he speaks is, "I'm OK," which actually means something is wrong. To what extent is always a guessing game, Stilwell said.
Parents share duties
Jordan lives half the time with his dad in Oakdale and half the time with his mom and stepdad in Modesto. Stilwell had taken Jordan to the pediatrician days before his hospitalization, but the series of tests he underwent didn't detect the pancreatitis or a growing infection that nearly killed him.
"It was a very scary proposition because the doctors kept preparing us there is a real good chance he wouldn't make it through the night," said Stilwell, an Oakdale police officer. "As a cop, we are trained and prepared for just about any emergency, but this is the one item I wasn't prepared for.
"It was terrifying."
That night, Jordan was transferred to the University of California at Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where he was sedated and fitted with a feeding tube, respirator and central catheter.
Stilwell and Jordan's mother and stepfather, Sherrill and Brian Petersen, have been by his side every day, taking turns spending the night at the hospital so he is never alone.
Wednesday, Jordan opened his eyes and spoke for the first since he started breathing without a respirator over the weekend.
Jordan told Stilwell, "I'm OK," which he knew meant his son still was in a lot of pain and probably frightened by all the tubes and wires coming from his body.
He was well enough to ask for one of his favorite shows, "Barney and Friends."
Thursday, Jordan was repeating another one of his common phrases, "I'm done," which is also a product of an overly asked question by adults. Stilwell interpreted the words in the context of the hospital as Jordan's desire to go home.
More complications were found by doctors Thursday, including intestinal blockage and a cyst.
Jordan's fever persists and must break before doctors can take the next step in his recovery surgery on his pancreas. They anticipate it will be at least six weeks before the infection is cleared from Jordan's body.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2366.
HOW TO HELP
A fund-raiser to help defray the cost of mounting medical bills for 10-year-old Jordan Stilwell is being held Saturday at a restaurant owned by Sherrill Petersen, his mother.
The spaghetti dinner will be from 5 to 8 p.m. at Sam's Café, 3052 Fifth St., Ceres. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 Saturday, available at the Ceres Police Department, Ceres Fire Station No. 1, the Oakdale Police Department and Sam's Café.
There will be a bake sale and silent auction.
Those who want to help but don't wish to attend can donate to the Jordan Stilwell Benefit Fund at Bank of the West, East Whitmore Avenue, Ceres.