But that hasn’t stopped him from living life to its fullest, because, as Johnson told me: It’s something that happened, you can’t change it, so let’s move on.
What cannot be changed happened on Sept. 13, 1979, when Johnson was driving from his then-home near Jacksonburg to a Middletown bowling alley. He lost control of his Gremlin on a rain-slickened road. The car slid left of the center line and struck a pickup truck head-on.
His spinal cord was severed, fracturing his C6 vertebra and dislocating his C7. Johnson spent several months in hospitals, including Middletown Regional Hospital and Good Samaritan in Cincinnati. He then spent six months of rehab at Dodd Hall, a branch of the Ohio State University Hospital.
Johnson not only survived his near-death accident, but he’s actually thrived. Some 3-1/2 years after his wreck, he returned to work at then-Armco/AK Steel, which is now Cleveland Cliffs, and worked for 29 years before retiring. He wanted to have a career.
“You focus on your effort,” he said. “You have a goal, and my goal was not to retire on disability. I didn’t want to do that.”
Johnson, of Middletown, tells his story in a self-published autobiography, “Begin Again,” which is only available for $15 through contacting him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. He began to write it in March 2020 at the urging of one of his doctors, Dr. Anwar Siddiqui, who told Johnson his story would help some of his other patients who struggled emotionally and mentally.
“Begin Again,” which has an introduction written by Journal-News reporter and columnist Rick McCrabb, isn’t just about surviving a horrific accident, but more about surviving the aftermath, looking at the positive side of life, and how he found something ― road trips ― to keep the thrill of life alive.
Johnson just doesn’t go on road trips, though. As a quadriplegic, he is still driving in a van converted to accommodate his disability. And he and his wife of 51 years, Judy Johnson, go everywhere.
The stories in his book are really an inspiration, and that’s how and why the book was written. To encourage people.
“I learned that I’m more attuned to people, to situations people are dealing with,” he said. “I realized everyone’s fighting a demon. Every one of us is. It’s also set up to bring a message of hope. You don’t have to be a quadriplegic. You don’t have to be in a wheelchair. You just need to be dealing with a situation that seems to be potentially overwhelming for you, and if that’s true, hopefully this book will help you out some.”