By all accounts, Dave Johnson is the quintessential all-American husband and father. The young engineer has been happily married to his high school sweetheart, Susie, for 11 years. He and his family are active members of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Palm Bay. He helps his two elementary school-aged daughters, Brooke and Kathryn, with school assignments. He also coaches their basketball teams. On a daily basis, he answers the numerous “why this?” and “why that?” questions asked by his inquisitive 4-year-old son, Owen. And like any parent of a new baby, he deals with joys and struggles brought on by the family’s most recent addition, 7-month-old Renee.
Someone meeting Dave for the first time may find it hard to believe that just under a year ago he and his family were faced with a tragedy beyond belief.
While vacationing in Blue Ridge, Georgia during Fourth of July weekend last year, a truck hit the Johnson’s van from behind as the kids slept in the backseats. The rear-end collision left Dave with a concussion, while Susie, who was pregnant with Renee at the time, suffered multiple broken ribs – so many that the paramedics stopped counting. The couple’s oldest daughter, Brooke, now 11, was left with multiple broken bones, as was Kathryn, now 9. Owen, whose injuries were even more severe, suffered a critical cervical spine injury and a broken leg. But the most devastating loss was that the couple’s third daughter, 6-year-old Hannah, who did not survive the crash.
While an event of this magnitude could understandably send any family into a tailspin of grief, the intrinsic positive spirit of the Johnsons coupled with the overwhelming support of their family and friends has enabled them to handle the situation quite differently.
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
“Those first few days I was living on pure adrenaline. My strength to persevere came from the strength of my wife and kids – both physical and emotional. Their bodies would not give up, and neither would their spirits,” says Dave.
Within 12 hours of the accident, countless friends and family members reached out for support. Over the following few weeks, loved ones, including Father Bob Hoeffner of St. Joseph’s, drove and flew from all over to the hospital to be by the family’s side.
While the Johnsons spent the following three months beginning their road to recovery at a Tennessee hospital, residents of both Brevard County and Blue Ridge began an outpouring of support for which Dave is hugely grateful.
CMR Constructors, Inc. led a remodel of the Johnson’s home, making it accommodating to Owen, who, after the accident was left a paraplegic and reliant on a ventilator. Many companies and individuals donated their resources to help with this project, including the Home Depot Foundation which provided a $10,000 grant to help offset the costs.
Additionally, numerous employees of Harris Corp., where Dave was employed at the time, “cashed out” their vacation hours to help financially support the family. While Dave resigned from his position in February, he hopes to return to Harris in the fall.
Several fundraisers were organized nearly every weekend immediately following the accident to aid the family financially.
THE JOHNSONS TODAY
Today, Dave and Susie remain focused on getting Brooke and Kathryn’s lives back to a new normal, concentrating on everyday things that bring them happiness, like playing basketball at St. Joseph Catholic School, and going to visit Hannah’s headstone. The girls took ballet with their younger sister before the accident, and are slowly warming up to the idea of getting back into this activity as well.
Dave takes pride in how wonderful the girls have been when it comes to helping out with Owen. He laughs when he talks about Owen, who directs his sisters when playing Nintendo Wii and other games. He also takes pleasure in his son’s ability to pick up on the fine details surrounding him.
Meanwhile, baby Renee, welcomed into the Johnson family seven months ago, is healthy and thriving.
So when asked how the family is doing today, Dave says all things considered, they’re doing just fine. “Of course we have our moments of sadness, but if you can’t laugh at life, forget about it. Laughter is the key,” he says.
Simply put, says Dave, “Life is good.”
For more information on the Johnsons, and to donate to their family, visit Caringbridge.org/visit/thinkingofthejohnsons