Sanford School of Medicine School of Medicine

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In Brother's Loss, Lessons Emerge

 

Jordan Nordquist

 

 

   By Jill Callison
   Argus Leader

   12-25-09

 

 

 

Chances are, Jordan Nordquist would have thought about his big brother, Davis, sometime that day anyway. But on Nov. 23, during what he expected would be a routine medical-school lecture, he received an abrupt reminder of Davis once again.


His professor, presenting a lecture on the detrimental effect E. coli bacteria can have on a person's kidneys, brought up a case he'd seen as a resident in the early 1990s.Two brothers had been infected by E. coli while on a trip near Pierre. One lived, one died. Tears filled Jordan's eyes and, he says, he felt his heart race.

He was the brother who lived. His big brother, Davis, had died. That incident last month reminded Davis' family and friends of the effect one person can have, even after death.

Not a day goes by that someone in Davis' family doesn't remember or speak of the blond youngster who died two days before his 11th birthday.

"I look at his picture every day," says Darryl Nordquist, father to Davis, Jordan and their younger sister, Courtney. "It's probably what keeps me going. The crazy thing is, he never grows up. He's always that kid, just short of 11 years old, that I hope to see again someday."

Jordan sent his family a late-night e-mail after Dr. Joel Ziebarth unknowingly used the Norquist's story to teach his students. "Davis will never be forgotten," he wrote his father; his mother, Mary Hansen; Courtney; and several others.

"Even in the field of medicine, his story lives on. ... Every time I study about E. coli or hear about other diseases in children, I am reminded of Davis. ... Deep down it gives me some inspiration. I know his death has inspired all of us in some way."

His mother cried when she read the e-mail. "It was a good cry," Hansen says. "(Davis') death had impacted someone so much they would continue to tell his story."

Tragedy helps inspire change in state law

Her oldest child's death also had a more immediate effect. Hansen worked with Linda Stensland, then a state senator, to pass legislation requiring random testing of lakes and other bodies of water for dangerous levels of coliform.

It apparently was in a stagnant pool off the Missouri River that Davis and Jordan swallowed water contaminated by cattle manure. Darryl Nordquist had taken his sons on a weekend fishing trip in early August 1992.

Davis' symptoms surfaced on the second day. By the time the trio headed home to Sioux Falls, both boys were ill.

From the onset, Davis suffered the most. Mary Hansen, a registered nurse, was at work when her then-husband and children returned Sunday night. At home Monday morning, she examined the boys and realized Davis was seriously ill.

Jordan was sick for a week but remained home. Davis was admitted to the hospital, dehydrated and with failing kidneys.On Day 3, doctors gave the family a diagnosis of E. coli. Davis' kidneys shut down, and he went on dialysis. His appendix ruptured and was removed, along with two-thirds of his colon.

Davis' lungs collapsed, and he was placed on a ventilator. Despite a deceptive rally, the infection proved to be too much for his sturdy young body. On Aug. 20, 1992, two days before his 11th birthday, Davis died.

Dying brother's request: 'I just need to see Jordan'

Jordan Nordquist's memories of his brother have faded some. But he describes Davis as a stereotypical big brother, one who picked on him but loved him anyway.

Hansen recalls a much stronger bond. During his hospitalization, Davis repeatedly asked about Jordan, seeking reassurance that his little brother was recovering.

One night, Hansen was sure her son was dying. His blood pressure was almost nonexistent, his extremities were cold, his lips blue. But, she believes, Davis had unfinished business."I just need to see Jordan, Mom," he told her. "The final time we took him into surgery, we brought Jordan in. The look on their faces was something I'll never forget," Hansen says.

"Jordan was a trooper and looked at his brother, and his brother just beamed as much as he could, having all those tubes down his throat. I truly believe that was one of the reasons he hung on, until he could see that his brother was fine."

'He definitely would have been a star athlete'

The picture chosen for Davis' obituary shows a boy in a baseball cap, a bat on his shoulder.

Jordan's memories include playing football with his brother and father. His brother loved sports, he says. So does Jordan. To honor Davis, as a tailback on the Washington High School football team, he chose 34 as his number - Davis' number on his youth football team.

Jordan often wonders what his life would have been like had Davis lived."I think growing up with a big brother throughout the rest of my life would have definitely made me a different person," he says. "He definitely would have been a star athlete, so I'd be living in his shadow."

There is no rancor in his tone when he says that. Wrestling with the question of why Davis died and he lived led him to a faith-filled life, Jordan says. "I still get emotional talking about it," he says, his voice wobbling a bit.

"As I graduated and got married, you go through milestones. That's fairly difficult."

Pain of loss lingers, but family's faith deepens

Obviously, Davis' death changed everyone's life, Darryl Nordquist says."To the point of, I guess, becoming a more Christian family and believing that things truly happen for a reason."

Hansen has remained in contact with some of Davis' friends. His effect on them is all the more amazing because the family had moved to Sioux Falls from Brookings only four years earlier. In that time, Davis had attended Hawthorne, Jefferson and John Harris elementary schools.

"His three best friends, they were only fifth-graders when this happened, but they have never, ever forgotten," Hansen says.

"As a mother, I was very selfish in that respect. You don't want him to be forgotten. He was part of my life for almost 11 years and always part of Jordan's life."

Pathology professor never forgot brothers' story

Jordan didn't immediately tell Ziebarth, his pathology professor at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine, that he was the surviving brother. He confirmed the year with his professor, then told Ziebarth the next day.

"In my mind, I thought he'd be about the right age, but I didn't ask him," Ziebarth says. "It would be unprofessional to use the name, and I thought he might know the family. The next day he came up and said, 'That was us, my older brother and me.' "

Ziebarth has used the story of the two brothers with E. coli often over the years. Using a story from personal experience can have a greater effect on students, he says.

"And having a child die, that's probably why that was a big deal to me," he says. "It was an unusual case, and (E. coli) had been in the news a bit nationally. In Sioux Falls, a child had died as a result of it."

'There's a reason why things happen'

It was difficult to sit in class and hear his brother's story told, even with the respect Ziebarth showed, Jordan says.

But knowing that Davis still is helping others, knowing he might inspire someone else, knowing that a single life can continue to affect others, makes it worthwhile. Jordan is in the grueling second year of medical school: all classroom, little patient contact.

But interaction with patients is coming. And his story, and Davis', will give him a particular empathy, Jordan says.

"It's been 17 years," he says. "Some people will wonder why even thinking about it would make me tear up."

But not anyone who ever has loved a child.They know that love continues, even after death. "There's a reason why things happen," Darryl Nordquist reiterates.

"We don't question them. Well, we do question them, but you most certainly know that God is in control and doing things for the right reasons."