When 9-year-old Jordan Flaum of Redondo Beach spent a week recovering from heart surgery earlier this year at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, she suffered from a bout of boredom.
“There was nothing to play with,” she explained.
And now, thanks to her, the hospital is in store for a windfall of toys. With an eye toward helping her fellow young patients – some of them terminal – Jordan organized a toy drive last week at her school, Beryl Heights Elementary, and the effort was a smashing success.
Students brought in so many toys that the spread covered the entire surface area of a half-dozen tables in the cafeteria.
“I think all of this stuff will really help them,” Jordan said, surveying the plethora of board games, Barbie Dolls, Transformers, Legos, puzzles, DVDs and coloring books – all of them brand new. “They’ll finally have something to play with and have fun.”
Talking to Jordan, it’s easy to forget she’s still at an age in which toys are important.
A spunky spirit with long wavy tresses, eyeglasses and a penchant for sparkly clothing, Jordan is one of those kids who speaks with the fluency of an adult. When finalizing the week-and-a-half-long drive last week, Jordan scurried purposefully about the campus clutching a sheet of paper – the inventory – coordinating an effort to relocate the gifts from the classrooms to the cafeteria.
“I’m kind of like a manager right now, so I’m kind of like running back and forth,” she said, politely explaining a brief absence. “Now I see why it’s hard being a boss.”
A racing heart
Until this past spring, Jordan would experience sudden episodes of a racing heart, with her pulse surging to as many as 300 beats per minute. The short spasms would last for less than a minute before calming down to the normal range for kids – 60 to 100 beats per minute.
The condition is known as supraventricular tachycardia, and is thought to be an electrical problem.
“It felt like someone was pounding on my chest,” Jordan said. “I was sitting in class and all of a sudden I would feel it. It was anywhere from after I was jogging to sitting in class to lying down in my bed, and I would have them. It was just random.”
Initially, Jordan’s parents – her father, Dana, is a public defender and mother Tracy is a preschool teacher – half suspected that Jordan’s complaints about her runaway heartbeat were exaggerated. But one day their daughter complained of a pain in her heart, and they took turns putting a hand over it.
“We were like `Oh my gosh,”‘ Tracy Flaum said. The episode was all the more alarming because Jordan had just been sitting.
In March, Jordan’s parents took their only child to the hospital, where doctors performed a procedure in which the faulty “wiring” was literally snipped. It involved the use of a catheter, which was inserted through several entry points on her body, including the neck. Doctors told the family that to the best of their knowledge, the problem is solved.
Tracy Flaum – a spitting image of her daughter, minus the glasses and plus 25 years – said it was a routine procedure.
“For the doctor, it was like a walk in the park,” she said. “For us – it’s our baby.”
Tracy and Dana Flaum were initially in deep distress over the impending surgery. But spending a little time in the hospital quickly put things into perspective. They saw rooms adorned with signs bearing a name – an indication that a child was more or less taking up permanent residence – and tiny kids bald from chemotherapy wandering about pushing portable IVs.
Among the children benefiting from the toys will be Jordan’s own cousin, Nadia Gold, also a fourth-grader at Beryl Heights. She will undergo surgery over the winter break.
Jordan – who turns 10 on Wednesday – initiated the toy drive without any parental prodding. In fact, it began without her mother’s knowledge, when Jordan took to the stage during one of the school’s weekly Wednesday “town meeting” talks, in which the principal typically shares news and information with the students. This time, Jordan delivered a speech imploring her classmates to donate toys.
Beryl Heights Principal Karen Mohr said Jordan is a one-of-a-kind kid.
“She’s very dynamic; she’s got a great sense or humor,” she said. “She is one of the most responsible kids I know.”
Mohr added that Jordan’s plight hit close to home.
“My husband has congenital heart disease,” she said. “American Heart Association, Jump Rope for Heart, all those things are very near and dear to me.”
Inspired by Justin Bieber
Jordan, who performs other volunteer work, said she draws much of her inspiration from teenage heartthrob Justin Bieber, her favorite singer, himself a connoisseur of charitable causes.
Tracy Flaum said when Bieber uses Twitter to harness the power of his fan base for the betterment of a favorite charity – such as one called Pencils of Promise for building schools in the developing world – Jordan is quick to oblige.
“Whatever Bieber says is what we have to do,” Tracy Flaum said, with an affectionate roll of the eyes. But she understands such infatuation. After all, Jordan was named after a member of her favorite childhood band: New Kids on the Block.
Jordan, meanwhile, has so much spunk that she even swung and kicked at the doctors while out cold during surgery. They brought in her mother.
“Any time they touched her, she swung,” Tracy remembers. “And then I came in and said `Jordan, it’s Mom.’ And I touched her arm, and she immediately calmed down. … It’s like she knew.”