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‘I’m a living miracle’
May 14, 2012

Benefit Saturday for motorcycle crash survivor Wally Johnson

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

DELANO, MN – Having his face crushed and body broken in a motorcycle accident could easily have been the worst thing Delano’s Wally Johnson has ever faced.

“I was clinically dead twice,” he said. “They didn’t expect me to survive the flight from Buffalo to North Memorial.”

But, it was through that traumatic experience that Wally encountered more miracles than he thought possible.

“So many beautiful things have come from this,” he said. “I don’t think I’d wish it any other way.”

A benefit to ease financial strain for Wally, his wife (Naomi), and children (12-year-old Nathan and 9-year-old Sarah) is planned Saturday, May 19.

The event, led by the Delano American Legion Riders, will include a 100-mile motorcycle ride, dinner at the Delano American Legion, a silent auction (starting at 7 p.m.), and live music by The New Defective.

Wally’s medical bills could climb to more than $500,000, but he chooses to be thankful for what he has.

“While we still need the financial help, I also want this to celebrate the miracle of my recovery,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to even be at my own benefit.”

An unexpected stop
The day of the accident, March 14, Wally was on his way home from Izza Tube Laser and Bending/Ekon Powder Coating in Buffalo, where he works as a material handler.

As he was heading east on Highway 55, a GMC Suburban stopped to take a left turn onto Division Street North. A truck behind the Suburban decided to pass illegally on the shoulder, leaving no notice for Wally to slow down.

Wally doesn’t remember the day of the accident at all, but was told he hit the Suburban at about 50 miles per hour.

“I stopped like a bug on a windshield,” he said.

According to Wally’s CaringBridge site, the passing truck driver had no idea what type of accident occurred and didn’t stop.

Immense injuries
Wally’s sister-in-law, Ann Johnson, was the first to arrive at the hospital.

“His eye sockets were way down and his nose was detached,” she said.

In addition to all facial bones being shattered, Wally’s left femur, kneecap, wrists, and ribs were also broken; and his lungs, kidneys, and pancreas were bruised.

He also had some brain swelling and a little bleeding, but no lasting brain injury.

“My message to motorcycle riders is to wear your helmet,” Wally said. “That saved my life.”

Wally was placed in a medically-induced coma for nearly two weeks, while doctor Deepak Kademani did reconstructive surgery on his face.

“This guy just did an incredible job,” Wally said. “My face is very close to the way it was.”

Wally was also impressed with the work of orthopedic surgeon Jonathan Asp.

“Whether they realize it or not, they’ve both been part of a miracle,” he said.

Awake to a new reality
While in a coma, Wally remembers his wife talking to him, but he didn’t think it was real.

“She told me I had been in a bad motorcycle accident,” he said. “At that time, I thought, ‘this is a stupid dream. I have to wake up from this.’”

When Wally did wake up, however, life didn’t go back to normal.

Instead, he spent weeks in recovery and rehab, slowly regaining strength until he was able to go home April 27.

“They told me it would be mid to late summer before I’d be able to come home,” Wally said. “It’s 100 percent miraculous. I’ve had so many people praying for me.”

Wally is now doing in-home rehab, and additional surgeries are planned throughout the year.

The cost to fix his jaw – which is broken in three places – and replace some of his teeth could cost $20,000 to $30,000.

“I can only open my jaw about an inch, and it’s very difficult to chew,” Wally said.

His femur will also take time to heal.

“I’m still in a wheelchair most of the day, but I’m able to get up with a walker now,” he said. “My body is so withered. I lost 10 to 15 pounds of muscle mass.”

Before the accident, Wally was in strong physical condition, which he said might be contributing to a quicker recovery.

His goal is to be back at work this summer, but said it will depend on the timing of surgeries and the discretion of his employer.

Wally said his workplace, family, and friends have been immensely supportive, and that he’s also grateful for the medical staff, rescue workers, and law enforcement officers who’ve helped him.

“As hopeless as my situation looked, they did everything right and gave me the best chance at survival,” he said. “I’d like to see as many first responders and medical people as possible at the [May 19 benefit]. They went above and beyond that day – hands  guided by God.”

Wally added that he’s seen God’s hand at work in other areas, as well.

“We had been trying for three years to sell our home, and we couldn’t get people to even look at it,” Wally said, explaining that his family was trying to downsize to save money.

After the accident, selling the house became even more urgent – but this time, they didn’t have to wait long.

“It sold in a day,” Wally said. “God knew this day was coming.”

And although Wally is looking forward to brighter days, he doesn’t mind being reminded of what he went through.

“I consider the scars on my face a badge of honor,” he said. “I’m a living miracle.”

Benefit May 19
The public is encouraged to attend a benefit for Wally Johnson of Delano, who is recovering from a severe motorcycle accident.

The Saturday, May 19 event will include a 100-mile motorcycle ride led by the Delano American Legion Riders, followed by dinner, live music, and a silent auction.

Motorcycle ride
• Registration starts at 10:30 a.m. at Delano Lanes and Entertainment (429 Babcock Blvd. E.)

• Kickstands will be up at 12:30 p.m.

• Three stops are planned along the route.

Dinner - music - auction
• Dinner will begin at the Delano American Legion after the motorcycle ride (about 6:30 p.m.). People who are not participating in the ride are welcome to come sooner.

• The silent auction will start at 7 p.m.

• The New Defective will provide musical entertainment throughout the evening.

Cost to attend
• $20 - ride, silent auction, and dinner

• $8 - pre-sale for dinner and silent auction

• $10 - at the door for dinner and silent auction

More information
To donate to the Wally Johnson fund or to purchase tickets for the benefit, e-mail Ann Johnson at annslucky7@comcast.net.

To learn more about the motorcycle ride, contact the Delano American Legion at (763) 972-2969.

Johnson's CaringBridge website is www.caringbridge.org/visit/wallyjohnson.

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