It was the visit no parent wants to get: Multiple surgeries later, son is ‘Jordan Strong’

Jordan Shehan says he “practically moved into Methodist Hospital” after a middle-of-the-night accident resulted in serious injuries. He recently returned for one of several surgeries to help in his recovery.

It was just after 2 a.m. on a Wednesday in September. The last thing Sarah Bartlett knew was her son was working his shift as a bartender and server at Applebee’s Restaurant.

They lived in the small community of Hope, Ind. 15 minutes northeast of Columbus. It’s a town that hosts farmer’s markets and concerts on the town square. What could possibly happen that could change the life of Bartlett and her son Jordan Shehan?

Sarah’s husband, Craig Bartlett answered that middle-of-the-night knock on the door. There was a Bartholomew County Sheriff’s officer standing in front of him.

“He asked if I knew Jordan Shehan and if he lived here. Then he told me that Jordan had been involved in a serious accident,” said Craig Bartlett. “

Sheriff’s reports indicate the accident was discovered at 2:08 a.m. on Sept. 19, 2018. Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Adam Warner was on patrol when he found Shehan. Reports indicate his Ford Crown Victoria ran off the road, and struck several mailboxes and a utility pole before coming to rest in the front yard of a residence.

“It’s all a blur,” said Shehan’s mom. “Everything happened so fast but yet seemed so slow. There’s a lot I don’t remember.”

There’s also a lot Jordan doesn’t remember. He’s spent the past year fitting together the pieces of the puzzle that forever changed his life. He’s also spent more days than he can count at IU Health – both in Methodist Hospital and University Hospital.

He was transported by IU Health LifeLine helicopter to Methodist Hospital where he spent 60 days in ICU – he was in a coma more than 20 of those days.

“I used to be a sheriff reserve. I had heard he coded on the helicopter and they brought him back. He’s a walking miracle,” said Craig Bartlett. As soon as he heard the words “serious accident” he woke up Shehan’s mom and they called his dad, Dave Shehan. They drove straight to Methodist where they found Shehan getting prepped for surgery.

The multi-sport athlete, who wrestled heavy weight and served as a linebacker at Columbus North High School, was described as a “rag doll” thrown around in the driver’s seat of his car.

His earliest memories of the accident were more like a dream. He was trapped in a restaurant and couldn’t escape. As the pieces of the puzzle fell into place, Shehan says he remembers leaving work at around midnight.

“There were four or five of us who stopped at the Cozy – a bar just 15 minutes from my house. I had worked a double on the Monday and closed on Tuesday. We split a couple pitchers of beer and I think the combination of being tired and the beer caused me to fall asleep at the wheel,” said Shehan, 25. “They gave me a blood alcohol test and I passed. But the worst of it was that I was not wearing my seatbelt. Some people said I could have been killed.”

Like the details of the accident, Shehan’s injuries were what his mother called a “jigsaw puzzle.” He suffered cracked ribs, a punctured lung, and fractured vertebrae in his neck. “Everything from his neck to cranium was shatter,” said Sarah Bartlett.

Multiple surgeries followed. A recent facial surgery at IU Health University Hospital was to repair his bottom jaw. He has difficulty smelling or tasting, has double vision and no peripheral vision. He still faces about half a dozen surgeries to correct his right eye socket, his right eardrum and other facial reconstruction.

While some think he is a “walking miracle,” Shehan, who is the older sibling to Hunter, younger sibling to Isaac and Brandy and father of a son, 10, and daughter, 6, says he is blessed.

Perfectly implanted on his right leg is a scar in the shape of a “J.” It could have been a coincidence and could represent the first letter of his first name. But he believes it represents something else.

“People say I’m lucky and I say ‘No, Jesus saved my life,” said Shehan. His mom also believes it took something amazing to keep her son alive. “God had to be there the whole time. There are too many things that have happened to get him this far,” said Sarah Bartlett. She says those “things” began at the scene of the accident where first responders came from the Columbus Police Department, local EMS, Columbus Township Fire Department, Clay Township Fire Department, the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department and IU Health LifeLine.

“He’s a big guy and someone at the scene was able to give him a small tract that kept him going until he could get to the hospital for a regular size trach. That may have saved his life,” said Bartlett. And then there’s been the support of the community – including his crew at Applebee’s – selling “Jordan Strong” shirts and bands and organizing fundraisers.

Before the accident Shehan says he fell out of church. While he was in a coma a pastor from his hometown came to visit him when he got off work at Eli Lilly.

“When I got out of the hospital I felt it was respectable for me to attend his church and I fell in love with the church,” said Shehan. He volunteers his time to work with youth ages 12-18 and is set on getting his message out about wearing a seatbelt and not taking unnecessary risks.

“I’ve worked since I was 14 and in one night everything changed,” said Shehan. “I’ve put my parents and a lot of other people through so much and I want to get back on my feet again and give back.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email