She was 20 weeks into her pregnancy when Kristian Wilson heard the words every mother-to-be dreads.
“The doctor told me, ‘I think something is wrong,’” she said. “Those words are scary in general. But they’re really scary when they’re talking about your baby.”
Her daughter, Jordyn, was diagnosed with a heart defect in utero — tricuspid atresia. In layman’s terms, Jordyn’s heart had three chambers instead of four.
That appointment with her doctor was more than a year ago. Jordyn spent weeks in a neonatal intensive care unit at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, and she’s already had two heart surgeries to reroute the flow of blood to her heart. She has one more to go but suffers no ill effects from her condition.
And Wilson, a 2006 UNF alumna who went to school on a Delores Pass Kesler Scholarship, said her daughter has become a huge inspiration to her.
She’s even considering going for a doctorate at UNF. Considering what Jordyn has been through, a doctoral thesis seems easy by comparison.
“She definitely drives me — she’s a fighter,” Wilson said. “If you look at her, based on the way she acts, you wouldn’t think there’s anything wrong with her. She’s like any normal, healthy baby. But she’s been a hospital patient since before she had a name and fighting for her life since she arrived in the world. She’s inspiring, and she inspires me to do the best I can in life.”
Learning begins at UNF
Before Jordyn was born, Wilson was juggling a massive life decision. She was trying to decide what college would be the right fit for her, a first-generation student who grew up on Jacksonville’s Northside.
She was strongly considering the University of Florida, but then she received a letter from UNF telling her about the Delores Pass Kesler Scholarship. Established by a generous donation from Delores Pass Kesler and Deborah Pass Durham in 1997, the Kesler Scholarship is for incoming freshmen graduating primarily from Raines High School and other regional counties who demonstrate financial need.
The gift Wilson received was essentially a full ride, and it rocketed UNF to first place on her list of universities, above UF and other state schools. It was an amazing opportunity, she said, because it allowed her to focus solely on her studies — not on the next tuition bill.
The scholarship stipulates that students must live on campus, a fact she was fine with, even if it meant moving from her family home in town. She wanted to receive the full UNF experience — a robust residential and student life within a steadily growing campus community.
Multiple studies have shown on-campus living ensures that students forge relationships with a diverse group of peers and build a strong academic foundation for success.
It’s why the University implemented a campus living and dining requirement for first-time-in-college students this summer. Wilson loved her time on campus, and she said living on campus helped motivate her to do her best on campus.
“You have friends and other students all around you who are going through the same stuff — tests, studying and the same stress,” she said. “It’s a good support system, and it made me do better in my classes.”
Wilson graduated on time with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in social welfare.
She said her academic experiences at UNF helped guide her life goal — to work in the mental health field. She recently took a state board test and received her license as a mental health counselor. She now works at River Point Behavioral Health in Jacksonville and has dreams of one day opening up her own practice and working exclusively with teenage girls and helping build a group home for foster children.
For now, she’s taking some time to mull over her next big life decision ¬— when she wants to pursue her doctoral degree.
Jordyn also has a life-changing event coming up soon. Her doctors are trying to decide on the best time for her to undergo her third, and final, surgery.
Her mother, however, isn’t worried.
“She's just a fighter,” Wilson said. “She's the total opposite of what they say about most babies with heart conditions. She’s not fussy. She doesn’t cry a lot. She’s got a mind of her own, and by being her mother, I think she’s made me a better person. She’s taught me as much as I’ve taught her.”