Ryan from Millen, Georgia
A Second Chance at Life



Ryan Johnson  is a 23 year old  man who was in a horrible car accident.  He suffered brain damage, and his body was broken.  He spent close to 3 months in the hospital.  When he came to our nursing center, on 11-21-2016,  he was basically unresponsive.  He could open his eyes and look around but he didn’t have any expression or reaction to stimuli.  His prognosis stated he would likely spend his life in that condition. 

Our activity director is Brigham Hodges.  He is a young man (in his mid 20’s) that, when he first saw Ryan (the day after his admission) he got right in front of him and demanded in his deep voice, “You are coming with me!”  Ryan turned his head toward that very manly voice and his eyes brightened up a little.  That was all the encouragement we needed to provide as much stimulation for him as we could.

Starting on day 1 we included Ryan in everything.  We talked to him, touched him, and encouraged him to start to come back to us.  He went to every activity, and spent time in all of our offices.  He watched us work and have meetings and he appeared to be listening to us.  He started to follow us with his eyes.  He laughed at a joke two of the CNAs told him while giving care.  That was a surprise!  On day 5 Brigham was assisting him with positioning him for a haircut.  He had to move his right leg that was full of pins and rods, to adjust Ryan in his chair.  Ryan said his first word!  It wasn’t an appropriate word but it was loud and clear and we all lost our minds trying to get him to say it again!  It was a 2 more weeks before he said another word, but he started nodding yes or no when asked a question.  He nodded ‘yes’ when we asked if he likes sports and a bigger ‘yes’ with bright eyes when we started to talk about basketball.

We got his girlfriend involved with his care. She worked and would always come on her days off.  She give him 48 hours of treatment, care, and encouragement every week!  We provided her with a bed, a shower, and food.  It was such a small thing for us to do for Ryan.

That was 3 months ago.  Since then Ryan is speaking!  He asked to eat real food.  We taught him how to eat again and how to feed himself.  He is working very hard in therapy.  He began to balance himself in a regular wheelchair and now he can maneuver himself around the center without assistance.  He is fully participating in care and improving every day.  He has a long, long way to go through painful therapy and he is now aware he is a 23 year old man in a nursing home.

We learned that he loves basketball.  It’s taking very strong stimulation to his brain to assist him with ‘waking up’.  Brigham and I approached each other with the same thought; let’s see if we can get the Atlanta Hawks to adopt Ryan for a game.  We tried to contact them on our own with no response.   We contacted Second Wind Dreams, June Rondinone.  She was a positive force!  She found sponsors and without her help we would have never been able to do this for Ryan.  She encouraged us when all hope seemed lost!  She would not let me develop a Plan B! 

It took her mighty efforts and contacts to pull off this trip to Atlanta to a Hawks game.  Levy Restaurants, Embassy Suites, and the Atlanta Hawks all came together to make Ryan’s second chance at life come true.  Levy Restaurants catered to our every need.  They got Embassy Suites to donate a room for Ryan his girlfriend, and a room for Ryan’s nurse and C.N.A.

When we told Ryan about the trip we were going to take to Atlanta to see the Hawks I’m not sure he fully understood what we were about to do.  It took him several days to fully process our plan.  That is all Ryan talked about!  He asked questions over and over until he remembered the answers!  He was so excited!  When Ryan smiles his whole face lights up!  Ryan chose Keyla Locket to be his nurse and Teah Mills to be his C.N.A for the trip.

We loaded up the bus early on a Friday morning (3-10-2017) and headed to Atlanta.  About every 30 minutes, Ryan would ask, “Ms Shelly, when will we get there?  Ms Shelly, am I going to meet Dwight Howard?  Ms. Shelly, who else is playing? Ms Shelly, are we there yet?”  It was an adventure just to get out in the bus!  Ryan only recently became able to support himself in a wheelchair so this was his first outing since his ambulance ride to us in November.

We stopped at Carrabba’s to have lunch.  Ryan loves pizza!  He was excited to order for himself and was happy that the waitress really listened to him.  He asked for hamburger on his pizza.  Carrabba’s didn’t have that on their menu but they made it for him anyway.  The wait staff pulled together and bought Ryan’s meal!  They were very moved by his story.

June met us at Embassy Suites. We were all so excited to finally meet her.  I checked us in with enough time for everyone to settle into their rooms and freshen up for the game.  Embassy Suites made sure Ryan had an adjoining suite that attached to another suite for the nurse and C.N.A.  He was amazed and so grateful at how large and nice his room was.  Time to get ready for the game!

Levy Restaurant’s met us in the lobby!  They were excited to finally meet Ryan!  We were excited to finally meet them.  They helped arrange so much.  We were escorted to the Arena and taken straight up to the Members Lounge.  Levy Restaurants catered to our ever need.  A manager from the Hawks wanted to meet Ryan and tell him her story.  She had been hit by a car outside the arena.  She also suffered brain damage.  Her story is inspirational.

Our Hawks guide took us to the court during the ‘shoot around’.  Ryan was courtside watching players warm up.  His face lit up when he realized Dwight Howard was walking toward him. Dwight Howard was making eye contact with him!  He introduced himself to Ryan.  Ryan was speechless for the first time since he started talking!  Dwight Howard spoke to him for a few minutes and shook Ryan’s hand.  And he posed for a picture with Ryan.  Fans were rushing toward them trying to get Dwight Howard’s attention but he only had eyes for Ryan.  I just sat there and cried.  Later on, we learned that Dwight signed a basketball beforehand for Ryan. 

Our Hawks guide took us to the “Fan Tunnel”.  This is a tunnel the players run through to the court right before the game.  Wow!  For us to be part of that was exciting.  It all happened so fast!  Our guide took us to our donated seats.  They were all courtside level.  Levy Restaurant’s continued to cater to our every need and want.  We all received a T-shirt and Hawks water bottle.  Ryan was presented with a basketball, a T-shirt, a bag full of Hawks stuff and when the Hawks guide learned that Ryan was feeling cold she got him a Hawks track suit. It was an exciting game and the Hawks won!

We are getting a trophy case for Ryan’s signed basketball.  We have printed out a photo album for Ryan to help him remember everything.  The talks about it every day!  Yesterday he asked me if we could do that again!

As I sit here writing Ryan’s story he wheels into my office.  I asked him if he wanted anything from me.  He said no, he “just want to check on you.”  I asked if he would like to watch his video.  He cried when he watched it.  He still can’t believe it happened.  He continues to improve a little at a time and still has a long way to go.  He has a lot of cognitive problems to overcome.  He has very little concept of time passing, which is a blessing for now.  His body is slowly improving.  He is not yet ready to attempt to stand on his one whole leg but that will come with time.   

We don’t know why God gave Ryan a second chance at life.  But, this time around he has a building full of Mom’s, Dad’s, Brother’s, and Sister’s.  We have all adopted Ryan.  He will always have a family with us and he will always have a positive support system no matter what his future brings.

  • Location
  • Millen, Georgia