Ken Johnson is learning to ask for help, especially with the light bulbs, which he can no longer change. But surprisingly, especially to Ken, there aren’t many things he can’t do. Everything just takes longer—sometimes painfully longer.
By Adam Miller
>>photography by Katherine Frye
Simply leaving the house takes an hour and a half.
There are no quick bathroom breaks.
No quick showers.
Even getting out of and into the car is a process, so a quick trip to the store is out of the question.
But there are some things Ken does better than he used to. Out of necessity, he’s better at thinking through the details of his day.
He’s better at gratitude. He’s better at appreciating everyday things—like walking. Because he can’t.
He’s grateful for his life before paralysis, when his body didn’t ache all the time from having to lift his whole weight throughout the day.
He’s grateful for when he could walk across the kitchen at his house, which is what he was doing the day he collapsed and hasn’t felt or moved his legs since.
That was two years ago.
“It was in September and I was just walking across the kitchen floor of our house and my legs went out from under me,” says Ken.
Ken had suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed.
As scar tissue from an old heart surgery peeled away from and clogged his aorta, blood stopped flowing to his lower spine. He collapsed. And as he waited precious minutes for an ambulance, his lower spine, deprived of blood, died.
His blood pressure soared. The paramedics poked him full of ports so he’d be ready for surgery when he arrived. He’d never experienced that much pain.
When he woke, blood had been restored to his legs, but his legs no longer worked.
“More alive than before”
Surprisingly he’s grateful for his life now. Maybe even more so.
“Well meaning people will say they are praying for healing for me,” says Ken. “Sometimes I respond and say ‘How do you know he hasn’t already healed me?’”
“For days and weeks after my stroke I prayed that God would give me my legs back, but that prayer changed to ‘God help me to get through my circumstances so that I have a better understanding of You and of my faith.’”
Ken says he’s been healed of his self-reliance and also has grown in what he calls his dependence on God.
“Some people will say that if they were in my position they couldn’t go on,” he says. “I believe that I am more alive now that I was before.”
And part of that new life is helping people who are dealing with similar tragedy or tragedy at all. Through his practice at East West Psychotherapy Associates in Marietta, Ken, a Licensed Professional Counselor, has helped families work through all sorts of circumstances, and since the accident he’s been able to offer a new perspective on loss.
He’s also applied his counseling skills at The Shepherd Center in Atlanta where he’s able to help spinal patients work through the loss they’ve experienced from events like his.
Though Ken might not have gotten his legs back, he’s experienced minor miracles both in his way of thinking of his new life and through the support of others and fortune of circumstances. Never in his life did he think he’d be using the exceptional accessibility of his office. Now the handicap-accessible parking and other features (like being on one level) are not only necessary for his patients.
And his wife, Cathy, whose life was also transformed by the events two years ago has been the same constant friend even in the midst of her own grieving. And the Johnsons’ church community at The Sanctuary have stood with the couple. Recently they handed them $4,000 they had collected to purchase a hand bike so Ken can get out on the roads and peddle.
Ken still gets teary-eyed when he tells that story.
“I couldn’t believe it.”