Jan 20, 2008
On the evening of Sept. 28, at an apartment complex in King of Prussia, a tragedy and a miracle occurred 2.5 seconds apart.
The tragedy took place when Jordan Burnham , 18, a senior just nominated to the homecoming court at Upper Merion High School, jumped out his ninth-floor window.
The miracle happened 90 feet below, when he hit the ground at 50 m.p.h. - and survived.
Jordan has no recollection of going out the window. Even though he was suffering from depression, neither he nor anyone close to him ever expected him to do something so impulsive, so lethal.
"I had everything to live for," he says now.
Today, 114 days later, Jordan's body remains badly broken. With the help of three therapists, he stood on his right leg last week for 60 seconds. He still cannot stand on his left leg, encased in scaffolding.
Doctors can't promise he'll walk, but won't rule it out. He has surprised them every step of his recovery, beginning with his survival. His parents hope the miracle continues.
One million American high school students, like Jordan, attempt suicide every year, according to federal studies, and about 150,000 are treated at hospitals. In 2004, more than 2,000 teens between 15 and 19 killed themselves. Nearly all suffered from depression or some mental illness.
Jordan's story provides a rare glimpse into one family's struggle with teen depression. He was being treated, his parents were tuned in, yet the disease so twisted his mind that he felt going out a ninth-floor window was his only option.
Still, his story also affirms how resilient one life, and one family, can be.
The day before he went out the window, a Thursday, Jordan learned of his selection to the homecoming court, and told his father to rent himself a white tuxedo.
A year earlier, when Jordan was the only junior on the court, they had done a skit together, a dance-off at the homecoming pep rally. It brought the house down.
This year, Jordan wanted to do a reprise. He told his father, Earl Burnham, the popular director of athletics and activities at Upper Merion High, not to worry about the cost of the tux - Jordan would pay.
In most apparent ways, Jordan Burnham had a life that couldn't get much better. He was a varsity golfer and baseball pitcher. He was sports anchor on the school's morning news show, and called the play-by-play for high school football and basketball games on local cable TV.
He earned good money last summer caddying. He has a car, an iPod, and an Xbox in his bedroom. He has the numbers of 150 friends in his cell phone.
Jordan is African American in a school that is 92 percent white. He and his three best friends, all white, are so tight they call themselves the Entourage, after the HBO show. Many classmates were sure he'd be voted homecoming king.
The day before his leap, Jordan had a golf match near his mother's school, and asked her to watch. A first-grade teacher at Knapp Elementary in Lansdale, she arrived with four holes to go.
When Jordan saw his mother, he walked over and "gave me a kiss on the cheek," Georgette Burnham said. He was so excited. " 'Did Dad tell you about homecoming?' " she recalled him asking. "I said, 'Yes, that's very exciting. You better get back over there. ' "
That evening, more good news: Jordan learned he'd be the one golfer from his school in the Suburban One League tournament.
The next morning, Friday, the day Jordan would jump, his father was getting ready to drive him from school to Indian Valley Country Club in Telford to practice for the Monday tournament. Jordan had never played the course.
As Earl went into his son's trunk, to transfer the golf clubs to his own car, he saw a blue Wilson duffel bag. It was open. Inside were 13 twelve-ounce cans of Natural Light beer, a half-gallon and a fifth of Smirnoff Raspberry Vodka, and a half-gallon of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum.
Earl was crestfallen - and angry.
Not again, he thought.
Early signs of depression
Earl did not confront Jordan right away. He just drove him to the club, simmering in silence, and tried to think of the best way to handle this.
Jordan's depression complicated the situation.
Tara, Jordan's sister, first spotted his depression, though she didn't realize it. When he was a ninth grader, she came home from Penn State one weekend and sensed an immense sadness in Jordan.
"I remember just crying when I left for school, telling him how sorry I felt that I couldn't make him feel better," Tara, 23, recalled. "I didn't know what was wrong. "
The depression finally burst into view in the summer of 2006, a few months before Jordan's 17th birthday, when he flipped out after failing his driver's test for the third time. He argued with the instructor, ranted at his father, and just started walking home from Norristown.
His mother, who went to get him, made an appointment with Jean Phillips, a licensed clinical social worker and counselor in Wayne.
She diagnosed depression.
Earl at first didn't understand. What did Jordan have to be depressed about? But his parents soon came to understand that there had been warning signs: His grades had fallen; he couldn't concentrate; they had even tested him for a sleep disorder.
As the Burnhams learned, "many with depression struggle to look and feel happy," said Jeffrey Staab, a University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist who treated Jordan after he jumped. "They don't want others to know what is happening, and they believe that if they just try harder to look and feel happy, they can break out of the depression. "
People who haven't been clinically depressed, Staab said, can't imagine the profound changes it causes.
Jordan talked with Phillips, his therapist, weekly. A psychiatrist prescribed an antidepressant, and he seemed better - for a while.
Six months later, in December 2006, Jordan called his close friend Allison Colatriano, an Upper Merion junior, and told her he had gone out with someone else.
Jordan felt so guilty, so bad about himself, that he had lined up on his bed all the pills he could find in the family medicine cabinets and locked his bedroom door.
Frightened, Allison called Jordan's parents on the house phone. When Earl wedged open the bedroom door with a credit card, Jordan hadn't taken any pills. Earl and Georgette said experts had told them this was a cry for help, not necessarily a suicide attempt.
Jordan went to Brooke Glen Behavioral Hospital in Fort Washington for a week. Few students at Upper Merion knew. He didn't want people to think he was crazy.
Back at school, he seemed to have a new appreciation for life. Allison said his spirits were higher.
Then came three episodes with alcohol.
Last spring, police stopped a car and arrested Jordan and the driver for underage drinking. Jordan worked the summer with a Little League in a first-offenders program.
In August, he hosted a party when his parents went to Pittsburgh overnight to visit Earl's sick mother. Jordan didn't plan the party, but word travels fast when parents go away. Even police heard.
As athletic director, Earl knew the party could cost him his job. But his bigger concern was his son. Earl and Georgette worried Jordan would be despondent over the predicament he had created for his father, and because he had violated their trust.
In accordance with school policy, Jordan and others were suspended from sports for two weeks. But he seemed to weather that crisis fine.
Then, on Sept. 28, Earl found the beer and vodka in the trunk.
The family tries to cope
Earl dropped Jordan at golf, and went to see his wife.
"I was devastated," Georgette recalled. "We were at such a good point, and bam! "
She struggled to understand whether this and the previous episodes with alcohol were normal teenage behavior or something more serious. Neither Georgette nor Earl drinks, and Tara said she never drank in high school.
After Earl left, Georgette talked with a fellow teacher who knew of Jordan's problems. "We prayed together," said Georgette. "I felt so distraught. So heavyhearted. "
Earl then called Tara, who worked in Atlanta.
Tara wanted to think, and said she'd call back. "I didn't want my dad and mom to make too big a deal of it," she said, "because Jordan had seemed to be doing well. "
She was in a meeting when her father called again that afternoon. She didn't answer. She thought she still had time to give her advice: Dispose of the alcohol, and don't say a thing.
Earl that day also called Jordan's therapist, Phillips.
She told him he should confront Jordan, and that there should be consequences. This was also Earl's inclination. Too much alcohol was found, likely intended for many students. Earl felt he couldn't leave the matter alone. Phillips also scheduled an appointment for Jordan on Monday.
On the golf course that Friday afternoon, Jordan felt good about his round. He shot an 87, and thought he could improve on three holes and drop to an 82 in competition.
Driving home with his dad, Jordan didn't suspect his parents were on to him. He called Allison to check in. She was leaving field hockey practice; they'd talk that night.
Around 6 p.m., when Jordan entered the apartment, his mother was sitting on the living-room couch. Jordan could tell that she was sad, but didn't know why.
"What's wrong with you?" he asked her.
"I'm just tired," she told him. "Really tired. "
Then Earl walked in with the duffel bag full of alcohol.
"This is where I could see Jordan's whole demeanor change," his mother recalled.
"Whose is this? " Earl asked.
"It's mine," Jordan replied.
Earl had hoped Jordan would say the alcohol belonged to others, but wasn't surprised when Jordan shouldered responsibility.
Earl told his son that he would be grounded. They'd get into the specifics later.
Jordan didn't get angry or protest. "I'm just no good," he told them.
"I didn't say that," Earl insisted.
They talked it through for a few minutes. They hugged.
Earl did tell his son, "I need you to call the crisis team," a county hotline. Considering everything going on with Jordan, Earl believed the call would be a good idea.
Jordan appeared to be handling the incident well, so about 6:30, Earl decided to walk to the high school - 10 minutes away - and get Jordan's car. He'd be right back.
Georgette was still on the couch.
"Jordan came over to me," his mother recalled, "and I just looked at him. "
"Why?" she asked him.
"I'm just a mess-up, Mom," he replied. "Just a mess-up. "
"I said, 'No, Jordan. You're not a mess-up. ' "
Jordan went into his bedroom, shut the door.
"It's not uncommon for him, when he's upset, to go into his room," she said.
Georgette sat wondering what was the right thing to do.
Desperate attempts to help
Around 6:30, Allison, home from practice, had finished dinner when Jordan called.
In an interview, Allison recounted the conversation - none of which Jordan remembers.
"Are you alone?" he asked.
"Yeah. Why?" she replied.
"You know that I care about you, right? "
"OK, because I'm going to be leaving. "
"I'm going away. "
She noticed right away he sounded strange. At first she thought that he was moving, that his parents had taken a new job. Then he said, "It's time for me to go," and added he had "to write some letters first. "
Suddenly she understood. He sounded as he had a year before, as if he were about to do something drastic.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked him.
"I've been letting a lot of people down. Like my mom. "
Jordan told Allison that his father had found alcohol in his car.
"Well, that's not the end of the world," Allison told him.
She tried to make him feel better, but it wasn't working.
"I'm going to call your mom," she told him. "I'll call you right back. You'll answer, right? "
He said he would.
Allison reached his mother on the house phone.
She told Mrs. Burnham that she was very worried about Jordan, to check on him.
Allison called Jordan right back, and he did pick up.
They had just started their new conversation when, through the phone, Allison heard knocking.
She heard Jordan say, "No, Mom. "
Then she didn't hear anything. The line went dead.
She got scared. She tried calling his cell phone again.
Then she sent him text messages repeatedly, according to the police report:
6:49 - "I need you."
6:54 - "Please pick up."
7:04 - "Jordan don't leave me, don't go please."
7:05 - "Please I need you, everyone needs you."
7:12 - "You mean the world to me. "
'I didn't want to know'
After Allison's call, Georgette knocked on Jordan's door. "He wouldn't let me in," she recalled, "And I'm sort of angry at him at this point. "
"Open the door," she tried again. "We can talk. "
She began to panic: Jordan might have grabbed pills again. Georgette called Earl, but he had left his cell phone at home.
She hurled herself at the door so hard she was bruised the next day. It didn't budge.
She called Phillips, the therapist, who quickly called Jordan and got his voice mail. At 7:10 p.m., according to police, Phillips left a message on Jordan's phone: "Nothing is so bad it can't be fixed. Call me. "
Georgette was again on the phone with Phillips, who had called back, when she heard sirens.
Georgette's first reaction was, "Not another fire drill. Not now. "
Then, more sirens. Lots of sirens.
"That's when I saw all these people on the ground. I saw Earl. I'll always remember the shirt he had on - blue and white striped - and saw him running over to underneath where Jordan's window is. I knew, but I didn't want to know. I was crying into the phone. "
Driving up, Earl also thought it was a fire drill. Until he saw the maintenance man, holding a phone, who yelled, "I'm trying to call you. It's Jordan. "
Earl ran across the yard. Police and EMTs were at the scene.
One officer asked Earl if he knew what had happened. Had the boy been beaten up and ditched there?
Earl looked up and saw the open window.
"He came from up there. "
A scene of tragedy
A woman who lives on the fifth floor was in the courtyard playing with her young son and other children when, according to the police report, "she heard a loud thud and turned around to see Burnham on the ground. "
The 911 call came in at 6:56.
According to the police report, the first officer found Jordan "lying still and on his back. " His left leg "was wrapped almost completely around his right leg," and Jordan had "deforming fractures to his left wrist and left arm" and "was bleeding from his face, mouth and head. "
"Burnham did respond to me when I spoke to him and was able to tell me his name. I asked Burnham if he fell from the window, and he mumbled, 'No. ' I sat with Burnham and kept him from moving so he wouldn't further injure himself. "
An ambulance raced Jordan to a field for helicopter transport.
Earl accompanied police upstairs. They discovered Jordan had barricaded the door with his desk chair. The window - two feet by three, big enough for an agile teen to climb out - was open. The screen was on the bed.
Police told Earl and Georgette to start driving toward Philadelphia. Dispatch would call to tell them where Jordan was being taken.
Within moments the Burnhams, both 50, college sweethearts at Slippery Rock, found themselves stuck in Friday evening Schuylkill Expressway traffic.
They didn't know if their son was alive or dead. In haste, they had brought only Earl's cell phone, and the battery was dying. They hoped it lasted until police called.
'I need a miracle'
At the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, the chaplain greeted them, and prayed with them, as they awaited news.
They called their daughter.
"I collapsed. . . . I blamed myself," Tara recalled. "What if I had called my dad and said, 'Don't talk to Jordan about the alcohol? ' "
"None of us ever thought, no matter how bad he got, he would ever do something like this," Tara said. "I was an R.A. in college, and I dealt with depression and even one suicide attempt on campus. I didn't feel I saw the signs for him to be close to the edge. "
Finally, Earl said, a doctor emerged to tell him and his wife that there was a 60 percent chance Jordan would die. The doctor said he had never seen anyone survive a fall of more than five floors.
Earl went outside to get some air, and prayed:
"God, I know I've asked you for a lot of things. But this is one time I'm going to ask you: I need a miracle. I will rededicate myself. God, if you can save my son's life . . . I'm giving this over to you, God. I'm letting go. Whatever your will is, I accept. "
A friend and former principal of Earl's heard the news and called him at the hospital at 9:30 p.m. Earl told her not to come right away.
"Come at 1:30 a.m." he said.
She asked why. Earl remembered telling her: "He'll probably be dead by then, and I'll need you here. "
'He was the happiest kid'
At the Marquis, the Burnham's nine-story apartment building, scores of students had gathered.
Like so many others, Andre Wessels got a call from a friend on his cell phone:
"Did you hear Jordan jumped? "
"Are you drunk? " Andre responded. "Are you high? "
As Wessels explained later, "Nobody expected this from him, of all people. "
Kevin Reifsnyder, a member of Jordan's Entourage, recounted, "We were all obviously shocked because he was the happiest kid. "
School officials wisely that night opened the school cafeteria for students to gather. "I've never seen grown boys cry so much," said senior Theresa Esposito.
On Monday, "not one person, not a few people, the whole school was crying," said senior Tom Filandino.
They wore ribbons. Raised money. Gave blood. They decorated Jordan's locker and his parking space.
Allison started a Facebook site, "Stay Strong Jordan B," where students poured out their grief and good wishes, checked on news, posted pictures and videos.
Friends visited him in the intensive care unit.
"The first time it was a miracle because we saw him blink," said Ryan Donovan, of the Entourage.
A senior who visited several times said she suffered from depression and an eating disorder and was thinking about suicide herself - until Jordan jumped.
"It just made me realize you only have one life, and you could throw it away so quickly," she said. "When you're thinking about it, it doesn't seem so extreme. But when you see something like this, you understand. "
The nature of depression
Depression is anything but rational. It is tied to chemical imbalances in the brain.
"If something happens that makes most people sad, we'll feel sad, but we'll bounce back," explained Staab, the psychiatrist. "If we get happy about something, we don't walk around for days and days giddy. We're happy for a while, and then we go back down. That's really a regulatory system [of brain chemicals] that allows us to respond, and then settle back down to our usual self. "
With depression, the "regulatory system goes awry. It doesn't settle us back down. It drifts," Staab said, leaving people irritable, anxious and moody. They sleep or can't sleep, overeat or don't eat. They magnify negatives, disregard positives. They feel they have no value.
Teenagers, Staab said, with their maturing brains, are even more vulnerable to magnifying negatives.
A chain of prayers
In the emergency room, staff did a quick assessment:
Jordan had landed on his left side, breaking his pelvis. His left leg was shattered above and below the knee. His left wrist, skull and jaw were fractured.
Extensive internal bleeding was the most urgent priority. Jordan would bleed to death within hours.
He was rushed to interventional radiology, where doctors, injecting a dye, pinpointed the worst area of bleeding - in the violently broken pelvis. Using catheters and wires to snake their way through his arteries, doctors stopped that bleeding from within in about two hours.
For days doctors weren't sure they could save him. They cut open his abdomen to ease the swelling of his major organs, a result of shock, bleeding and resuscitation.
His kidneys failed, and he went on dialysis. He needed a ventilator to breathe.
Jordan had survived the fall because he landed on earth instead of asphalt, and because he didn't land on his head or neck. He was also young and fit and got immediate medical attention - at the scene, then at a superb trauma center, where teams of specialists were waiting.
"The fact that he fell nine stories certainly puts his survival as sort of an exceptional event," said trauma surgeon Patrick Reilly, who worked on Jordan. "Someone who falls nine stories, the majority of those patients should die, many before they ever reach medical attention. "
"I think he has an angel," said Allison. "My MomMom passed away the night before he did this. Sometimes I think it's her that saved him. "
From the first day, Earl and Georgette, lifelong Baptists, started a prayer chain. They'd call Earl's Aunt Minnie and Georgette's sister. Prayers would spread from Florida to Canada.
"We would tell them specifically his kidneys are failing. He's on dialysis, and they'd pray for his kidneys and they'd come back," said Georgette. "Then we'd say his white blood count is low, and the counts would come up. It's mind-boggling how God has saved him and now he's healing him. "
Earl and Georgette spent the first five days at the hospital, getting a hotel room next door. They didn't want to leave; they didn't know if they'd ever see Jordan again.
When they finally went home for a night, Earl and Georgette went into Jordan's room. "I smelled his clothes and sat on his bed so I'd have some sense of Jordan," Earl said. He put his son's wallet in his back pocket, and has kept it there, to have something of his son close by.
Searching for an answer
After three weeks of constant crises in the ICU, doctors were able to reduce Jordan's sedatives, and he slowly woke up.
Jordan couldn't speak because of his tracheotomy, a breathing tube in his throat for his many surgeries. But he could mouth words. Late in October, he asked his mother what had happened to him.
The Burnhams had been told not to tell Jordan that he had jumped. Doctors wanted to know what he could understand, what he remembered, whether he had suffered a brain injury.
Georgette told her son he was in the hospital, that he had fallen.
"Did somebody push me? " Jordan asked, mouthing the words.
"No. No one threw you," she replied. "What do you remember? "
He was upset. He couldn't remember. "Did I jump? "
"I'm not sure, Jordan," she told him. "I wasn't there. Do you remember going golfing with Dad at Indian Valley? "
"I remember that," he told her, mouthing the words.
"What about after?" she asked.
"That's all I remember," he said.
His parents wanted so badly to find out why he had done it, but didn't want to upset him.
Tara visited at Halloween.
"That was a horrible moment to me," Tara recalled. "My parents said don't give him a straight-up answer. . . . He looked at me with that look in his eyes, 'You're my sister - we always tell each other everything,' and he mouthed to me, 'Do you know what happened to me? ' "
She would not tell him the whole truth. She did tell him that he had fallen from his bedroom window.
"Why am I alive?" he mouthed the words.
A tear ran down her cheek. She said one word: "God. "
The healing begins
In November, Jordan grew more alert, stable. And it became all too clear just how badly he was broken.
He was able to eat, but had little appetite because of medications and trauma. He remained on intravenous nutrition. He was on heavy pain medication and was often groggy or asleep. With the hole in his throat, he still couldn't talk.
He had suffered nerve damage to both legs and his left arm, and several times described his pain as 8 on a scale of 10, even with drugs.
The injury causing him the greatest pain was around the base of his spine and his rear end, on which he had landed. Surgeons removed so much dead muscle and tissue, and cut so close to the spine, they feared Jordan may never sit again.
Earl's and Georgette's spirits soared or plunged daily, hourly, with every improvement or setback.
When the plastic surgeon put four titanium plates into Jordan's broken jaw - all from the inside and leaving no scars - Earl wept, and had to fight back the urge to kiss the surgeon.
"I just stood there and cried," Earl said. "He hugged me. "
But when Jordan endured a shock test to assess nerve damage in his left arm and legs, and writhed helplessly, Earl looked like a defensive lineman about to sack the neurologist.
Georgette wished desperately, constantly, that she could take Jordan's place, bear his pain. Earl became Atlas, keeping Jordan's spirits up, always searching for and trumpeting the positive.
Even for families, visiting hours in HUP's sixth-floor trauma unit are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Georgette was there the whole time, on leave from her teaching job.
Earl was there as much as possible, but kept working. His family needed his salary and benefits, and the school, which has given him tremendous latitude, needed an athletic director.
The parents massaged Jordan's feet, or fetched him milkshakes, hoping he'd eat. When Jordan slept, Georgette did crosswords, and Earl, on his BlackBerry or laptop, arranged for buses or referees.
Every night, when the Burnhams pulled into their apartment building's parking lot, they looked up nine floors and relived everything.
Some nights Georgette tried to tell herself, it's not that high. Her husband corrected her. Yes, it is.
Earl and Jordan had moved into the Marquis six years ago when Earl took the Upper Merion job. Georgette stayed in their Pittsburgh house until she found a job here.
An apartment so near school was perfect. And when a top-floor unit became vacant, Earl fell in love with the view.
Now they spend as little time there as possible.
"Sleep, eat, and get out of here," Georgette said.
'I got Jordan back'
Mouthing some words and spelling others by pointing to letters on a piece of paper, Jordan gave his first interview in mid-November.
His room was filled with get-well cards and posters. He had seen the Facebook comments of his friends.
His parents, so focused on his condition, and still fearful of upsetting him, had not yet really asked Jordan about his feelings, about what had happened, and they hung now on every word.
"I guess I never realized how much people care," he spelled out. "It gives me the motivation to wake up every day with a smile on my face. "
"That's great stuff," his father said.
Jordan saw his father cry, and started to cry himself.
"I love you," he mouthed.
"I love you, too, son," Earl replied. He clasped his son's good right hand.
"I want to be strong like you one day," the son mouthed.
"You are," said the father.
"No, I'm not. You are," the son repeated.
"I'm not that strong," Earl continued. "I just believe that through God I get my strength. That's why I believe you're going to get well. Because of your faith in God, you're going to recover. "
"I find it very difficult to now complain about anything," Jordan spelled out, "when I am blessed to be even breathing. "
His mom kissed him.
He then spelled out his feelings about his parents.
"They impress me more than anything I could ever do. Amazing. Sometimes I feel like I have it easy compared to what they go through every day emotionally. "
On Thanksgiving weekend, Jordan got a smaller tracheotomy, and discovered that by putting his finger over the hole, he could speak.
When his father walked in, he surprised him.
"Hey, Dad. What's up? "
Earl Burnham began sobbing. He made so much noise, nurses came running.
Jordan grew concerned.
"What's wrong, Dad? "
"What's wrong? " Earl repeated. "It's been 56 days since I heard your voice. It's Jordan. I got Jordan back. "
With his new voice, Jordan was eager to talk. In an interview, he recalled practicing for the golf tournament on the day he jumped.
"It's weird," he said. "I remember the first tee. Dogleg left. Second shot was over the water. Pin was on the left side. Putt was uphill, right to left. But I can't remember anything else that happened that day.
"The reason I go back to that day is I wonder, 'Did I have a reason to commit suicide? ' "
This was the first time, his parents said, he had mentioned suicide.
"Was there any motivation? Was I depressed? And nothing comes to mind," he said. " It's mind-boggling to wake up in the hospital - connected to an IV and with all these tubes - and not even know how or why you got here. I don't have the slightest clue. "
"Nine stories," he said. "It's amazing that I'm still alive. "
A week later, on Dec. 2, Allison told Jordan her account of what had happened that night.
"He was shocked to hear that he had called me and was on the phone with me while it happened," Allison recalled. "He apologized a couple times. Then I asked him if he was happy to be here. "
"I'm extremely happy to be here," he told her.
Teenagers and suicide
Jordan's jump was impulsive, but wasn't done in isolation.
"A suicide attempt is not, Something bad happened, I'm going to commit suicide," said Guy Diamond, who runs the Center for Family Intervention Science at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"It's, Things aren't going well, I'm under a lot of pressure, I've disappointed my parents, I can't fit in, and what often happens there's a foundation that's fragile . . . and some incident will be the straw. "
Diamond urges parents of children with depression to have a frank discussion about suicide.
"Some parents fear that this will put ideas in their head," he said. "We find that not to be the case. And in fact, if adolescents are not thinking about it, they find their parents' concerns silly but protective. . . . If they are thinking about it, then adolescents find the conversations a relief. . . . 'I can finally talk with some one about this. ' "
From the day Jordan jumped, Earl and Georgette wondered whether the antidepressant he was taking was to blame.
Many experts, including Staab, Jordan's HUP psychiatrist, do not believe so.
In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration caused an uproar when it warned that antidepressants might create suicidal thoughts in teens. As a result, some teens stopped taking their drugs, and suicides increased.
Last year, the FDA modified its warning. The risk, it said, was only in the first few weeks of treatment.
Jordan had been taking his medication for more than a year.
Staab said that Jordan's antidepressant clearly had failed - he attempted suicide - but that he did not believe it encouraged the suicidal behavior.
A gift for Allison
On Dec. 7, Jordan was feeling better than in the 10 weeks since his fall. Transferring him into a wheelchair took three people and caused wincing pain. Once in, Jordan felt good sitting. His parents wheeled him around the hospital, a Steelers jersey over his gown.
As usual, he also wore around his neck a Philadelphia Marathon credential that his father, a race volunteer, had given him for inspiration. "What you're going through is just like a marathon," Earl had told him.
He went to get a haircut, to play the piano in the lounge with his right hand. He had taken lessons for five years.
He went to the gift shop and bought a stuffed dog to give to Allison.
His mother decorated his door for Christmas with candy canes, a red bow and Bible passages.
Later, back in bed, after Jordan had eaten three bowls of cereal, Allison visited.
She sat by him, held his hand. He smiled; she giggled. Jordan then pulled the pup out of a plastic bag.
For a moment, he was Jordan Burnham , a high school senior, and he was giving a girl a present.
Later that evening, Jordan felt like talking. He explained how he had tried to ignore his depression and hide it.
"My parents were asking me how my day was, and they would always try to get deeper in the conversation, but I just wouldn't let it happen. "
At school, "I was the funny guy, always upbeat, always positive, even when I didn't feel like it on the inside," he said.
Alcohol, he believed, didn't figure into his depression.
"I probably drink less than the typical high school student. At my school there's usually about two parties at the most a month. Most of those times at those parties I was the designated driver. "
And between parties, he routinely stored leftover alcohol in his trunk.
"When I did drink, it was the equivalent of four or five beers or three to four shots. That never got me wasted or out of control. Just something to get me loosened up. If I was feeling down, I wouldn't drink. That would be dangerous. "
He felt lots of pressure.
"I would have trouble in school about grades," he said, "and I was constantly stressing about that. "
Doctors call this and other common teen pressures "stressors" and "risk factors" that can trigger depression.
Jordan loves his school, and felt he fit in. But he said being in a mostly white school contributed to his stress, primarily when it came to dating. He did not think this had been a factor the day he jumped.
"A lot of parents aren't racists, but they don't like interracial dating," said Jordan. "I found this out the hard way. "
The father of one senior girl refused to allow Jordan to date his daughter. There was nothing Jordan could do to change his mind, and it devastated him.
"That definitely added to my depression," he said.
At his lowest moments, Jordan said, he just felt worthless. "You feel like it's you against the world. "
He knew people loved him, cared about him, but at the same time he was unable to believe it.
Depression overruled his rational mind.
"I had a lot of emotions that dealt with me not living anymore," he said. "I'm not saying I wanted to commit suicide, not saying I wanted anything completely bad to happen, just saying what if I wasn't here any more. "
Jordan said he now remembered his parents confronting him about the alcohol on the evening he jumped. And how bad he felt.
"That's something I remember," he said. "When I get in trouble with my parents, I get a real down, depressed feeling of letting them down, of embarrassing myself. I get just ashamed, really. . . .
"Especially with my mom. I just felt like every time I got in trouble, I just broke her heart. That's the last thing I want. And every time I got in trouble, I lost more of their trust. It made me sad. "
Surviving has changed him profoundly, he said. "I don't know why, but I'm smiling more. I'm happy more.
"Mainly I feel grateful," he added. "I have an appreciation for life. I'm able to express my feelings more. "
He wants to go back to his bedroom, to look out his window, and say to himself, "I'm still here. "
A Christmas pledge
On Christmas, Jordan gave his parents a present: a certificate, "A Promise to You. "
Jordan had dictated the words to Tara, who crafted the document on a computer.
"This promise is for Earl and Georgette Burnham," it began. "No matter what the circumstances, good or bad, their loving son will never try to leave them again. "
"With Love Always. "
Jordan Burnham .
Earl started bawling again, but this time the nurses didn't come running.
The road ahead
The next day, Jordan got his best present: a discharge.
After 89 days at HUP, he rode in an ambulance to Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital in Malvern.
Jordan was ready for more aggressive therapy. Getting to rehab was the brass ring. A major step on the climb back. Now, though, Jordan and his parents would have to adapt to life at a new place and pace, set new goals.
At Bryn Mawr, Jordan saw himself in a full-length mirror.
"Sometimes I don't recognize myself, I'm so skinny," he said.
His appetite is improving. Last Monday, he ate half a Wawa hoagie for lunch - for him, a veritable feast.
While doctors still won't let Jordan stand on his left leg, on Friday they cleared him to start lifting up to 25 pounds with it. He can also start strengthening his left arm, in the hope of using a walker.
Jordan is upbeat, indicating his resilience, Staab said. This will help him through difficult days ahead.
He will continue with his new antidepressant and counseling. One goal, said Staab, will be to revisit the suicide attempt, identify any warning signs that led to it, and develop strategies to follow if he sees such signs again.
"Depression doesn't have to get the best of you," Jordan says. "No matter how small the possibilities of making it out may seem, there's always a way. "
Jordan's short-term goal is to get well enough to ask Allison to a February high school dance, even if he can't get out of the wheelchair.
A year from now, he hopes to be in college, studying to become a sports broadcaster, and telling his story to people who need to hear it.
Contact staff writer Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or firstname.lastname@example.org.