A suburban food pantry volunteer was hospitalized for 9 months with COVID-19. His town welcomed him home with fanfare.

·4 min read

For 16 years, Kelvin Jordan served hundreds of people each week at a suburban food pantry, until he caught a case of COVID-19 so severe that he fell into a coma, had multiple blood transfusions and developed a skin condition that stumped doctors for a time.

Doctors initially told his wife, Jacqueline Johnson-Jordan, that the 54-year-old man’s chances for survival looked grim.

Jordan’s prognosis, however, began to change after spending several weeks in the hospital. His health began to improve, the beginning of a recovery that his wife said the doctors described as miraculous.

Still, it was nine months before Jordan could go home. His arrival back in North Chicago was heartily welcomed by community members to whom he has meant so much.

Jordan is known for efficiently running the local food pantry where he and his wife volunteered. For years, the couple got up early to clean, meet the food trucks, sort through the items and perform other tasks to keep the pantry running, other staff members there said. But Johnson-Jordan believes her husband caught the virus while serving the community.

The couple has had to step back from their roles to focus on a long and expensive rehabilitation for Jordan. His family set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for his treatments. Johnson-Jordan is relaying her husband’s story while he recovers.

“He’s given so much to our community,” North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham Jr. said, of Jordan’s food pantry work.

Jordan and his wife became reacquainted — they’d first met years earlier when the both lived in Chicago — when they both joined Emmanuel Faith Bible Christian Church and started volunteering for the church’s food pantry.

Jennifer Hill, a fellow volunteer, said the two often got there around 7 a.m. to set up chairs and wait for the food trucks that brought the supplies. The two are kind and easy to work with, Hill said. Jordan is quiet and focused on the job, taking his role seriously, she said.

The community’s need for meals has always been high, but Hill said the need right now is dire.

“You think you have it bad until you see the people (who) really need it,” she said.

In December of last year, Jordan came down with the telltale symptoms: a cough and runny nose, Johnson-Jordan said. She soon caught the virus as well, and their symptoms worsened until Jordan passed out on the floor in the bathroom.

“I couldn’t pick him up,” Johnson-Jordan said. “I started getting weak.”

So she called 911, and Jordan was rushed out of his home, where he wouldn’t return for nine months.

Johnson-Jordan was also hospitalized, but mostly recovered after a remdesivir treatment. She continued to put in hours at the food pantry — now more draining due to the absence of her husband — while also praying over her husband via a video chat each night while he was in a coma and breathing with a ventilator.

Johnson-Jordan was finally cleared for an in-person visit, and she noticed the strange skin condition that her husband developed.

Jordan was transferred among multiple area hospitals for treatment, even spending some time in a burn unit due to the strange skin condition he had contracted, which stumped doctors for a while.

Then, in late February, he started coming around.

Finally, the deluge of bad news settled down, and Johnson-Jordan even started getting good news. Her husband’s skin started to rejuvenate. He was getting better. The doctors told her the recovery was a miracle.

But he hadn’t used his muscles in months. He had to do speaking exercises to relearn how to make rudimentary sounds. He was nourished through a feeding tube until July, when doctors cleared him for normal food.

Johnson-Jordan made all his favorites. She made a potato salad and greens, cutting the pieces as small as possible so he could process the food. She made some mac and cheese and baked chicken with no skin.

“That man was happy,” Johnson-Jordan said with a laugh.

And soon, Johnson-Jordan received the news that her husband could go home. A date was set: Aug. 28.

That’s when the town stepped up.

To mark Jordan’s release from the rehabilitation center and his hard-won recovery, the city organized a police escort to take him home with fanfare.

A video taken by his brother-in-law shows the city’s emergency vehicles escorting Jordan home in an ambulance, sirens blaring.

Friends and family lined up on the sidewalk to wave him home.

“We wanted to make sure he was aware that if there was anything else we could do from a city standpoint to help with his recovery, we’re there for him,” Rockingham said.


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