Advertisement
  1. News

After accident, a son and a family begin long road to recovery

Courtesy of the Johnston Family. Joey Johnston, son of Times correspondent Joey Johnston, earned a spot on the Alonso High School varsity baseball team as a freshman this year. He\u2019s now recovering from debilitating neck and back injuries.
Published Jul. 27, 2018

My son has never been ordinary. But following a horrifying July 8 accident that left him with severe neck and back injuries, our life can be described only one way.

Extraordinary.

Gut-wrenching and hopeful, exhausting and exhilarating, tragic and joyful — all of that and more.

Joey, our 15-year-old hyperactive, athletic, whip-smart and unforgettable son, could have easily died. Somehow, he was spared. And now, we have never felt more alive.

Instead of being alone, we feel the strength of a growing community, cherished family, lifetime friends, co-workers and so many people we don't even know, all united behind a charismatic kid who knows how to lead a good parade.

Joey has always been a thrill-seeker, a daredevil, an adrenalin guy. Other kids stay inside, playing video games and watching movies. Not Joey. He's an outdoorsman. He climbs trees. He rides bikes. He fishes. He's an Alpha male.

This might explain why Joey and his buddies attempted to leap off a 65-foot bridge for fun on July 8. His friend went first and landed fine. Joey, of course, tried a backflip and he over-rotated. The injuries happened on impact with the water.

Even with that disastrous visual, there were immediate positives. Joey was alive (his friend saved him; had Joey jumped first, he almost certainly would've drowned). His head and brain were unharmed. He has movement in his upper body. There is no movement in his lower body — yet — but we are optimistic.

Look at all that has already happened. He has made it through two surgeries. His neck and back have been successfully fused. He's eating food. The halo and neck collar have been removed. He's out of traction. His spirits are generally great. I mean, his attitude most days has been truly inspirational. But the work has only just begun, and that will occur at a specialized rehabilitation facility.

I believe Joey is going to be awesome in rehabilitation. I really do. We are giving him the best possible chance to thrive. In typical Joey fashion, he's definitely the guy you want taking this at-bat — stubborn, determined, ultra-fit, goal-oriented, Mr. Clutch, tough.

Boy is he tough!

I don't know about your faith. I can only speak to mine. God is in charge here. He can fix this. And I believe He will — on His time and His schedule.

Entering July 8, Joey was a devil-may-care, somewhat reckless 15-year-old. He's scheduled to get his driver's license in October. We constantly have to watch him and remind him of safety and making good decisions. He has taken crazy chances — like a lot of 15-year-old boys — and mostly made it through. Now he has made a decision with huge consequences.

Here's my theory: God saw a kid who thought he was invincible and maybe untouchable. Could an accident be prevented from above? Yeah, sure. But a lesson had to be learned. Maybe that was the only way Joey could get back on the right path.

Clearly, Joey is meant to be here. Something special already has happened. We have noticed a softening, a sense of perspective, a realization that he got a second chance. He has spoken about helping people. He has spoken about helping his peers make better decisions.

These might be small things, but I see a glimmer of insight, empathy and gratitude that was not there before. I see a different path. I see hope.

I also see a potentially extraordinary life.

So far, baseball has consumed much of his focus, whether it was earning the skills-competition championship at the Rays Summer Camp (as a 6-year-old), becoming a key performer on the Keystone Little League All-Stars' three-time state championship teams or earning a spot on the Alonso High School varsity team as a freshman last season.

Oh, and let's not forget Rays player Daniel Robertson dedicating a walk-off grand slam to Joey, then hitting another homer for the kid the next game, while flashing the "Prayers for Joey'' wristband for the TV cameras.

RELATED STORY: Rays' Robertson visits injured player in hospital

I think I was more proud of Joey's 4.2 grade-point average, but certainly there was excitement about the baseball ahead of him. Now we take a bit of a detour.

The road ahead will be long and unpredictable. There will be more tears. There will be emotional chasms that probably teeter on depression. We're keeping the faith and hoping all of you can, too. We need positive thoughts, encouragement and friendship.

One day at a time. That's the only way to face this challenge. He must give the best effort of his life. The finish line is out there somewhere.

Joey's life has sometimes prompted frustration and exasperation for his parents (not unusual … right, fellow parents?). At the same time, it has provided rewards beyond measure.

I like to stare at him when he drifts off to sleep at the hospital. He still has that sweet little boy look. It's nice to see him at peace, if only for a moment, before the daily battle resumes. At these times, regardless of where this process leads, I just know he's going to find his purpose.

He's going to be all right. And we're going to be all right, too.

Follow Joey Johnston's progress atnfacebook.com/prayersforjoeyjohnston.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, accused of stabbing and killing John Travlos and Germana Morin aboard their houseboat in 2013, testified on his own behalf at his murder trial in Pinellas County this week. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    It took the jury about three hours to find Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria guilty. Next they must decide whether to send him to Florida’s death row.
  2. Harold Fritz, 75, was awarded the nation's highest and rarest honor, the Medal of Honor, for his actions in 1969. The Army lieutenant saved his platoon during an ambush in the Vietnam war. He spoke to students at Farnell Middle School in Tampa. MARLENE SOKOL  |  Times
    Harold Fritz wanted to talk about teachers’ salaries and education. The kids wanted selfies with one of the 71 living recipients of the nation’s highest honor.
  3. PDQ's new Trinity location features a self-serve sauce bar with seven signature sauces perfect for dipping chicken tenders. Courtesy of PDQ
    Both chains are expanding locally and held grand opening celebrations this month with giveaways and free food.
  4. Casey Cane has resigned as chair of Pinellas County’s Housing Finance Authority in the wake of a Tampa Bay Times story about his failure to disclose an arrest for a financial felony when he was 19. He also serves as a Palm Harbor fire commissioner. Casey Cane
    Casey Cane failed to disclose his arrest for a financial felony in 2006. He said he didn’t think he had to reveal that information.
  5. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks to about 75 people Tuesday at a city conference on innovation and collaboration. (City of Tampa photo by Janelle McGregor) Janelle McGregor
    City Hall brought together startups and the nonprofits that nurture them for a discussion of possible ideas to improve city operations and service.
  6. Scott Purcell, a senior geophysicist with GeoView, left, and Mike Wightman, president of GeoView, use ground-penetrating radar to scan a portion of King High School campus in search for Ridgewood Cemetery. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Preliminary answers from the ground-penetrating radar could come as soon as next week.
  7. A federal judge gas stayed the Nov. 7 execution of death row inmate James Dailey, 73, for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Left: Dailey at his 1987 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. Middle: Dailey in 1993, when he was again sentenced to die. Right: The most current photo of Dailey on Florida's Death Row. Tampa Bay Times
    Dailey was set to be put to death Nov. 7. A judge ordered his execution to be postponed to give his attorneys time to present their claims. But the state can appeal.
  8. Markeith Loyd, suspected of fatally shooting a Florida police officer, attends his initial court appearance Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, at the Orange County Jail, in Orlando, Fla. Loyd spoke out of turn and was defiant during the appearance on charges of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend. He was injured during his arrest Tuesday night following a weeklong manhunt.
    The same jury found Loyd guilty last week of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting 24-year-old Sade Dixon outside her home in 2016.
  9. The new owner of a dilapidated mobile home park on Gandy Boulevard has sued the city of Tampa over a record-setting fine levied against the property for a massive tree removal in August. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
    A Gandy Boulevard mobile home park owner is suing the city of Tampa over a record $420,000 fine .
  10. Dashboard camera video shows a Tampa police cruiser pursuing Dusharn Weems through a parking lot. A second later, Weems is fatally injured when the car strikes him. Courtesy Haydee Oropesa
    The family of Dusharn Weems, 23, claims an officer intentionally struck him after he was spotted driving a stolen car.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement