Jordan wants everyone to know that “sometimes people are scared of people with HIV and they don’t have to be.”
Jordan Mitzel was born in the Spring of 1998. To say that he arrived with the deck stacked against him is sort of like saying Albert Einstein was bright or that Brad Pitt is cute. It’s true, but it doesn’t really convey the proportion.
Jordan’s birth mother was an alcoholic, crack-addicted, HIV-infected prostitute. She was apparently traveling the East Coast on a bender when she went into labor in Charlotte. Jordan was born drug addicted and suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He needed assistance just to breathe.
According to a Johns Hopkins report, HIV infects approximately one in four babies born to HIV-positive women not receiving medical treatment. Jordan was among the misfortunate minority. However, a few days after his birth something finally went his way.
His mother abandoned him at the hospital.
At five days old Jordan was placed in the home of Beverly Mitzel and Sonja Austin. After 11 months together the couple, at the time 37 and 39 years old respectively, were ready to start a family. They had already completed the necessary steps for becoming foster parents in Mecklenburg County. All they were waiting for was a phone call.
“I got the call from our foster care agency at work,” remembers Mitzel, then a UNC-Charlotte employee who now works for the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN).
“We had requested an HIV-positive child and, I think, he was one of only two born in the county that year. With the improved medications the rates were way down. They told us he was three days old and we could have him at five days, when he could be released from the NICU (newborn intensive care unit).”
Jordan and his whimsical flock have raised about $3,700 for AIDS Walk Charlotte thus far.
Caring for Jordan was a formidable task. His viral load was in the millions so he was immediately put on two liquid medications. At six months he was switched to a powerful multi-drug cocktail.
“Oh my god, it was awful,” Mitzel says. “The liquid medicines were foul tasting. We had to hold him down to give them to him. The liquid form of Ritonovir tastes like peppermint flavored lighter fluid and the consistency is almost like Vaseline. It would coat his mouth and nothing cuts it; milk doesn’t cut it. He’d have this foam coming out of his mouth and then he’d vomit. So, we’d have to start over.”
Undaunted, Mitzel and Austin accepted a second special needs child when Jordan was three. Two-year-old Joseph was born with a genetic condition that prevented his intestines from functioning properly. A permanent colostomy was the only option to save his life.
In 2003, four-year-old Alexis and her nine-month-old half-sister Malaysia were welcomed in.
Today, all four children are adopted. The family’s unique circumstances and rich diversity, including the fact that Mitzel, Austin and Jordan are white while Joseph, Alexis and Malaysia are black, has forged a powerful and intentional bond.
At the cusp of nine, Jordan’s life has settled into a routine of elementary school, church services at MCC Charlotte, spring and fall league baseball, pets, video games, skateboarding and a twice-daily dose of seven pills and 15ccs of AZT. His viral load is undetectable and he is healthy.
“About six months ago he finally asked me if he had HIV,” Mitzel says. “It was shortly after he went to the pediatric infectious disease clinic he visits every four months. They check his T-cell count, viral load, make sure we’re compliant with the meds — that sort of thing. He saw the posters on the clinic walls. He just said, ‘Do I have HIV or A-I-D-S?’ He doesn’t say ‘AIDS,’ he pronounces the letters.”
When asked about living with HIV, Jordan, who is slightly learning disabled due to his fetal drug exposure, shyly explains, “HIV and A-I-D-S is a bad thing to have. You have to take a lot of medicines. And if you don’t take your medicines, you’ll die.”
The line leader
Earlier this year Mitzel was sharing with Austin plans for RAIN’s annual AIDS Walk when Jordan interjected that he’d like to join the fundraising trek through uptown Charlotte. His moms were delighted but not surprised.
“Jordan is just very giving,” says Austin, an accountant at UNC-Charlotte. “When we go to Wendy’s or to the mall and he sees those collection boxes for diabetes or foster kids, he always asks for money to give or he gives his own money. He gives at church. He was all over AIDS Walk Charlotte because he can relate to the cause.”
Jordan says two things are especially important to him about participating in the May 5 Walk. One point is that “sometimes people are scared of people with HIV and they don’t have to be.” The other thing is that “kids can raise money.”
Though he’s small for his age, Jordan loves playing Little League.
Actually, as Jordan has shown, a determined kid can do more than just raise money. He can become the top fundraiser. At press time Jordan has collected around $3,700 to support RAIN’s services for people living with HIV and AIDS. The figure is easily more than double the amount of any other individual raising money.
Most of Jordan’s funds have been secured through solicitation. (“He has no trouble asking people for money,” Austin shares through a broad smile.) Some has come from recycling aluminum cans, old cell phones and used printer cartridges; the remainder has been generated by an amusing campaign known as flocking.
People pay to have their friends’ front yards “flocked” with a dozen pink flamingoes for 24 hours. At pick-up, the “victim” can pay $25 to have Jordan and his moms set up the birds at another friend’s home.
On the homepage of the AIDS Walk Charlotte website, www.aidswalkcharlotte.org, Jordan has held the pole position on the “Top Fundraisers” list from the get-go. “He calls himself ‘the line leader,’” Mitzel explains with a laugh. “That’s what he’s learned from school. When they line up in class the first one is the line leader. He sees himself in the number one position on the site, so he’s the line leader of the AIDS Walk.”
Given all the challenges Jordan has faced in his young life, it seems like karmic justice that he’s become top dog. Readers can support his admirable effort by donating securely at the AIDS Walk website using a credit card. Simply click on Jordan’s name in the listing on the right to start the process.
info: AIDS Walk Charlotte. Saturday, May 5. Gateway Village, corner of Trade and Cedar Sts. Registration begins at 8 a.m., program at 9:30 a.m., Walk at 10 a.m. www.aidswalkcharlotte.org.