'A real joy' amid death New UM clinic honors an AIDS victim who inspired others

When they dedicate their sleek new clinic to Evelyn Jordan on World AIDS Day today, the health workers on Eutaw Street won't be honoring a politician, a president or someone who laid down a considerable hunk of cash.

Evelyn Jordan raised a child, held a few jobs, got hooked on drugs, caught a fatal disease and died the most dignified death anyone at the clinic can remember.


It was the way she lived during three years of intense suffering that touched the staff and patients of the University of Maryland Medical Center's AIDS service. She would ask exhausted doctors how they felt. She would pay for a patient's television service, turn sufferers into advocates and march the 3 1/2 -mile AIDSWALK when getting out of bed seemed all but impossible.

So when it came time for the clinic to abandon its dingy, barracks-style building on Pratt Street for a spacious new suite at 16 S. Eutaw, there wasn't much question whose name would appear on the sign in the lobby.


"I met some patients who really made a change in their life from being around Evelyn," said Debra Kosko, a nurse practitioner with the adult HIV program. "They were more positive and upbeat, living with HIV rather than dying of it.

"For me, as a clinician, seeing someone looking at life with that much hope and enthusiasm gave me more drive not only to help her but other patients, too," Ms. Kosko said. "She made it a real joy to do this work."

Irmy Revty is one of the few surviving members of a support group called Sisters that was co-founded by Mrs. Jordan and social worker Stephanie Silver.

"You would feel important to have known her," Ms. Revty said from her hospital bed. "She always had the right thing to say. We'd all go into the group down-faced, not feeling too good, and she'd give you a big hug before you left. You always left with a smile."

Mrs. Jordan died March 14, 1994, at 37. Three days later, she was laid out in an open casket at a funeral she had planned herself.

Expanding services

Today's ceremony marking the official opening of the Evelyn Jordan Center comes as the University of Maryland Medical Center is rapidly expanding its services to people with AIDS. Since the late 1980s, its adult caseload has grown from 60 to about 700 people -- in and out of the hospital.

The new clinic, a few blocks from Camden Yards, looks much like a suburban doctor's office, with soft furniture, modern equipment and rooms for examinations, group meetings and therapy sessions. Staff members say the new surroundings send a message of respect to a clientele that is used to much less.


The ceremony comes 14 years into the epidemic and a month after the nation has counted its 500,000th case of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Since 1981, almost 13,000 cases have been diagnosed in Maryland, about half of them in Baltimore.

Five years ago, the epidemic took a new turn when intravenous drug users began to outstrip homosexual men as the group with the largest number of new cases, and the gap has been widening ever since. Somewhere in those statistics, one could find Evelyn Jordan.

13 drug arrests

She grew up in Park Heights, graduated from Northwestern High School and attended college for two years. A marriage ended in less than a year. In a cable television interview a few weeks before her death, she said she "got hooked up with a guy" who introduced her to drugs. "And it just went on and on and on."

She lived at home with her parents and daughter, nicknamed Shani, but she sank ever deeper into an addict's lifestyle. Along the way, she was arrested 13 times on drug-related charges. The last arrest earned her three years in prison.

Mrs. Jordan said she thought freedom would provide the incentive to stay clean, but it wasn't so. Her preference for snorting drugs -- it made her feel superior to the intravenous crowd -- gave way to binges in shooting galleries where she probably acquired the AIDS virus.


"We were reaching into bags pulling out needles," she told WHSW-TV. "You could see blood in the needles. You might have 50 people in the house, everyone reaching into the bag."

About five years ago, she began the hard work of giving up drugs. Around the same time, a mysterious skin rash led to a test that proved positive for the human immunodeficiency virus.

Her condition progressed to full-blown AIDS, bringing most of the "opportunistic infections" that prey on the depressed immune systems of people with AIDS, said Dr. David Wheeler, a specialist who treated her.

She also suffered from a few ailments that baffled doctors. One was the disfiguring rash, which might have made some people withdraw.

Helping others

Instead, she helped other people live with their disease.


"One day, a woman came in who was recently diagnosed and just sat there crying through the whole group," said Ms. Silver, the social worker. "Evelyn just explained to her what life could be. She could fight the disease and become stronger and take care of her children and help other people as a result of that.

"This woman went on to do so well emotionally that she now works at another HIV clinic and runs support groups for women. I would attribute that to Evelyn Jordan."

Zomorya Shantell Jordan, 22, recalled how her mother would help hospital roommates with bedpans and fix intravenous tubes that had come loose.

Doctors said Mrs. Jordan reached out for treatment but, in the end, allowed doctors to step back and let her die. "We just couldn't find that many more things to do. This was her permission -- it was OK that we couldn't do any more."

Miss Jordan fulfilled her mother's chief wish, entering college shortly before the end came. Later, she joined the Army and started a nurse-training program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She plans to resume studies at Howard University and obtain a degree as a registered nurse.

"She'd be proud," Miss Jordan said. "I'm growing up."