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Memoirs Of A Shining Star

Health 2000, February 2000

Thirteen-year -old R.P. Johnson had a wonderful life. His home in Southlake, Texas had all the benefits of city life, and his father’s farm in Iowa enriched his life with its fresh clean air and the demands of working with farming and its equipment. However, there are some events that occur when farming that one can never prepare for.

In the Spring of 1997, R.P. began his day as usual. On this day, he would use a tractor to lay down dry fertilizer in the corn field. The first round was laid. He stopped the tractor to reload new fertilizer. As he did this, the wind blew his T-shirt onto a power shaft. Unfortunately, the T-Shirt was snagged by a defective bolt. R.P’s arms were pulled into the spinning power shaft, mangling his arms. R.P. miraculously kept his wits about him, managed to climb onto the tractor, and drive the tractor a mile using his feet. The tractor stalled. R.P. managed to kick the tractor door open, and climb down the tractor.

The Accident

The first thing that I remember, after coming to, is that I could not move at all. I felt the stinging pain that radiated from both of my arms, but I could not see them. I thought that I had lost both of my arms. Thoughts of the last time that I saw my Dad ran through my mind as I walked. I prayed that it would not be the last time that I saw him. I kept thinking, “I am too young to die; this must be a dream. I will wake up and I’ll look down and I will see my arms.” I also began to think, “This is not fair. I am not even 16! I haven’t been able to drive with my friends. I won’t be able to experience what the other boys my age do.”

Once I reached a farm house, a man put me on a sofa and his wife got me a blanket. They called 911. I was able to give them the phone number of my grandmother and some directions. My mother and my grandmother arrived shortly after this. My grandmother immediately comforted me by holding my hand. My mother was frantic to get to me. She kept telling me that I would be alright, yet I could see that she was checking every inch of me. She was also a great help to the paramedics. In the ambulance after I was stabilized, one of the paramedics named Bart kept telling me jokes so that I would remain conscious. I remember hearing that I would be Lifeflighted.

St. Joseph’s Hospital in Omaha

Once I got to the hospital I began to feel very safe. If I flinched or moved, a nurse was there within what seemed like a second. However, it was hard to tell what was going on. Everything seemed to happen so fast. I didn’t know how to act or feel about what had happened. I didn’t know if I was upset that the accident occurred or if I was just happy to be alive. I worried about school, while I intermittently checked the monitor to make sure that I was still alive. In the background, I could hear the doctors talking to my parents. Once, a doctor told my parents that my arm did not look good to him. He was not sure about the outcome. Then I heard that I was to be moved. I was thankful that I was alive, but I felt that I would be without my arms. Then they told me about Dr. Ronald Friedman in Dallas. They felt that he could help me.

The Move to Dallas

I was afraid to move. I was scared to move out of bed, and scared to go into a car. I was tense and very fragile. It took a long time and many people to get me on the airplane and off of the airplane when we landed.

I was glad to be back in Dallas. The first person that I saw as they wheeled me off the plane was my school principal. I felt both relieved and happy. He told me that I had made history at my school by being the first one to be promoted from the 7th grade to the 8th grade that year. It made me feel so much better when I saw so many of my friends at the airport.

Columbia Medical Center at Plano

After the two surgeries in Omaha and two more the first few days in Dallas, there seemed to be constant planning from that point on. Because my left arm was surgically attached to my stomach, I had three layers of tape tightly bound from my upper arm, back, stomach, and then around my upper arm again. I could just barely move my right arm because of a large external fixator that had been drilled into my bones to keep them together. One of the weirdest feelings occurred three hours later. My arm began to itch. This was bad because I could not scratch it, and my parents could not scratch hard enough to get to the heart of the itch. Then the tape started to roll in a ball on my back and that would make me itch more! I got very frustrated. I started having flashbacks and nightmares.

The worst day that I experienced was the day that they discontinued my morphine. I was scared that I would be in pain again. My body was tormented with headaches, hot flashes, and muscle aches. I couldn’t calm down and I could not sleep. I spent the next eighteen hours going through all of these conditions.

Going Home

When I got home, things did not seem to get better. I could not eat very much. I found it difficult to nearly impossible to feed myself. Going to the bathroom meant going with someone to help me. I wasn’t well enough to attend school or to even see my friends. Because of this, I missed out on all the school parties and the school dances. I was unable to leave the house for a very long time, and when I did leave I did not really want to go because I was so embarrassed about my body suit of tape. Leaving made me tired. I even began to experience car sickness. My nightmares and flashbacks continued. Even a simple 13-year-old normal activity like Nintendo became difficult because I had to learn to play with one hand.


Rehab started the 16th of May. I felt very scared and confused. Richard Kelly, the physical therapist that worked with me, would take the bandage off my arm to check it. Each time that he did this, I would have flashbacks that would nearly make me physically sick. I began to feel useless. I was unable to bench press even 45 pounds. I was afraid that if I did something wrong, I would hurt myself again. Even after working on the same exercises time after time, I was still unable to strengthen my arm.

At the end of June, my family and I went to Destin, Florida. It seemed that I was getting better, when my parents and my therapist began to notice that my arm was beginning to bow. Another set of X-rays were taken, and I was rushed back to Dallas for more surgery. After the cast was removed, I started rehab all over again. This time I became very discouraged because I wasn’t progressing as quickly as I thought that I should. Then Richard explained that I was going to have another surgery because two of my fingers did not extend properly. He told me exactly what they were planning to do. Though I was confused, I had confidence in Richard and Dr. Friedman. Even at the end of my period of rehabilitation, it got harder for me to lift weights. Richard and I got along well. He was easygoing, and seemed to understand my fears. Things like jumping on my bike and taking up golf were out of the question at this time in my life.


Three years after my accident, I am living the life of a physically active teenager. This was something that I never dreamed would be possible. The encouragement given to me by Dr. Friedman and Richard helped me conquer my fears and regain my life. One of my biggest triumphs was making the golf team during my freshman year of high school. I work at the golf course part time now and drive the carts back to the shed. The other day I played 9 holes of golf and shot a 42. I also love to waterski, jet ski, surf, snowboard and ride my four wheeler.

My father is a captain for American Airlines and also a flight instructor. He has given me several lessons in flying an airplane. I successfully solo’d my first plane during my sophomore year.

I know that I am one lucky teenager. My Mom refers to me as her “Shining Star.” However, it has been my family, my physicians, and my physical therapist that were the beacons of light that led me through this uncertain storm.

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