By Dani Moritz-Long
Many of us know Patti Smith, assistant chief information officer, as a technological genius with an aptitude for managing even the toughest of projects. She’s the first to offer a helping hand and clearly loves working with people as much as she does computers.
John Slot, vice president, informational technology and chief information officer, agrees that she’s completely invaluable to the College. “Patti brings a deep sense of integrity and care to each and every interaction,” he explained of the 10-year veteran of the College. “Her teams and her partners throughout the College seek her out to enable and enhance the student, faculty and staff experience.”
But Patti is all of that and more — much, much more.
She’s a warrior, an advocate, a leader in the fight against the parasitic disease that took the life of someone she loves — her nephew, Jordan Smelski.
Summer days sitting poolside while her husband challenged her nephew, Jordan Smelski, to hold-your-breath offs and splash-a-thons. Christmas mornings when Jordan unwrapped yet another pair of pajamas — a gift he both loved and expected from his aunt who always gifted the same thing. Lazy afternoons cuddled up on the couch watching the charismatic boy tirelessly play his favorite video games, pleased with a captive audience of one.
Patti Smith smiles as she remembers the nephew she lost.
“Jordan was wonderful,” she said of her late nephew. “He was happy and full of life. He could tease — that is for sure — but his compassion for others was amazing. He always wanted to be sure that those less fortunate than him were taken care of.”
Unfortunately, Jordan never got the chance to live up to his potential, to grow into the kind and caring man his family knew — if only given the chance — he would become.
His life was taken at only 11 years old on Wednesday, July 2, 2014, when the fifth-grade boy, who had a knack for making people smile, died from Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) caused by exposure to a brain-eating amoeba while swimming in a hot spring on vacation to Costa Rica.
While his parents knew about the risks of swimming in lakes, ponds and rivers, they had no idea the amoeba could survive in hot springs. They certainly never dreamed they would lose their precious son.
Now, in the wake of the family’s loss, they have made it their mission to prevent more deaths by the hands of an amoeba, called naegleria fowleri, which is — perhaps unfairly — considered extremely rare.
Through the Jordan Smelski Foundation for Amoeba Awareness, the family aims to educate people about the risks of swimming in any fresh bodies of water and hopes to enhance medical professionals’ ability to quickly diagnose and treat patients exposed to the deadly amoeba.
Sadly, like with Jordan’s case, it’s often misdiagnosed as something like meningitis — making the parasitic demise appear rarer than it actually is. As Patti explains, however, “it’s not rare when it happens to you.”
Incredibly, only two years after Jordan’s untimely passing, the foundation’s work has already been fruitful.
Recently, 16-year-old Sebastian DeLeon nearly shared the same fate as Jordan when he was exposed to the amoeba that kills 97 percent of the people it infects. But thanks to quick acting medical staff, accurate diagnosis and treatment, the teen is the fourth known survivor of the parasite that has already taken too many lives.
Patti, who acts as secretary and member of the board of directors for the foundation, is relieved to see the change. She hopes that, through continued education and awareness campaigns, her brown-eyed nephew with a heart of gold can continue making the world a better place even in his death.
Know of someone doing great work at the College, who has been an employee for one year or more? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.