A horrific motorcycle accident can’t keep a good man down.
Forty-nine-year-old Alexander Johnson has always been his own man. He didn’t go to college but went from high school to a warehouse job with Chewy, eventually earning a promotion and pay raise by moving with Performance Food Groups.
“The company I worked for sold all the impulse buys like you’re leaving the grocery store, you see and you think, ‘I need that!,” he said.
According to Johnson, his job consisted of managing more than 2,000 SKUs
Johnson went from being a warehouse worker right into being a warehouse supervisor. He didn’t just supervise; he would jump on the forklift and do exactly what he asked his workers to do.
Dream Work Makes the Man Work
He was a supervisor with a work ethic. And it was noticed. He was recruited by Performance Food Groups and left his original job to take a supervisor role with them.
At the time, he was managing more than 2200 SKUs. “And also managing those that never expired,” he said. “We had to find a place to store those because we couldn’t return them.”
Without the degree, Johnson was more like a supply chain manager and a personnel manager. And soon, he started to notice that and made plans to get his Associate’s Degree.
“I never thought I would want to be in management,” he reasons. “But because I had to dumb myself down from being the outspoken employee to the calm everything-down supervisor, I knew I had to make the transition.”
And then, as Alex was making his next transformation, his “do-it-his-own-way, independent -self” came to a halt.
Johnson, who had been riding motorcycles since he was 10, had gone to Mechanicsburg for a motorcycle auction at a new clubhouse. “It was the grand opening, too! So, I was excited.”
He was very safety conscious and always wore a helmet.
Johnson was on his way home from the auction. He had seen some old friends, met some new ones, and enjoyed his ride home. “And I hit a groundhog on my back wheel,” his voice deflates. “The back wheel started bouncing, and I lost control.”
That was on Johnson’s birthday, July 27, 2019.
Johnson says the bike turned sideways towards the curb. “I hit the curb and laid my bike down,” he recalls. “I landed in the grass on my feet, and I couldn’t get my footing,” he says. He hit a pole like a football tackling dummy. He broke his nose and eye sockets. Even though he was helmeted, he suffered a brain bleed.
The Breaks Don’t Break The Man
“I broke my neck in three places, my back in six, all my ribs, collapsed both lungs and broke my right clavicle,” enumerates Johnson. “My paralysis starts at T10. it’s classified as a T10 impingement.”
He was rushed to Hershey Medical Center in central PA, one of the Commonwealth’s largest and best spinal cord injury hospitals.
Johnson doesn’t know if his impingement is complete or incomplete because he did not allow the medical staff to perform the ASIA test on him.
Why? Remember, Johnson is a self-made and self-taught man. He had researched the ASIA test and he felt it would place limiting factors on his recovery.
“From day one, my thing was, I’m going to walk again, nothing will stop me,” reasons Johnson.
“And my thought process was if I get this ASIA test done, the medical staff would classify me as a complete,” he says. “Then, they’re going to treat me as such and, [then they would] limit what they let me do, and going to limit what insurance will cover,” Johnson reasons. “I didn’t want the classification.”
Johnson spent almost nine weeks in Hershey’s medical and physical therapy units.
Back Together — His Way
He hasn’t had surgery yet, but he does say, “They will, of course, put me back together at some point; I do have some titanium in my back.” He feels like the hardware is causing the impingement. It has been four years since Johnson’s injury. He is still wheelchair dependent.
He continues, “No, I’m going to walk again,” he emphasizes. “Period. That’s been my attitude from when I regained consciousness. I’m going to walk again. There’s nobody that’s going to tell me I’m not going to walk again.”
A God Moment
“You know,” muses Johnson, “I hate to say it. I wasn’t an angel before my motorcycle accident and never was religious, but man, this was a way of telling me to sit my ass down…I know you know what that is.”
Johnson says he accepted his injury from day one and never once cried over it. “My attitude from day one was ‘how we will beat this?’,” he says. “That’s going to be my attitude until I beat it.”
During the first two years, he had a bad sacral wound, which took him a couple of years to heal. That wound ended up giving him osteomyelitis, a bone infection.
Once Johnson’s wound healed, he transferred all his medical records to UMPC. He also moved from the Harrisburg area to Pittsburgh.
At the time of Johnson’s discharge, COVID had started to rear its ugly head, and he also felt more comfortable going to UPMC instead of staying in Hershey. Although Hershey has a stellar reputation as an inpatient rehab facility, Johnson felt it did not meet his needs.
Johnson felt the therapy was more occupational than strength-focused.
“Because it was more occupational, they didn’t have anything set up strengthening-wise.” opined Johnson. He indicated the therapy was occupational, helping him transfer, sit up, and learn to dress independently.
“There was nothing to help you get back any strength. There was nothing like that setup,” according to Johnson.
He does admit getting on the FES stem bike, but, in his opinion, he felt like they were soothing him.
Again, ever the self-made man, Johnson says, “Everything I got, I got on my own.”
And finally, Johnsons butted up against the insurance wall. Anything he found that would help him, his insurance would not pay.
But Johnson’s determination to be his own man and to do his research has finally paid off. He was accepted into a spinal cord stimulator research program and just received his spinal cord stimulator.
Right now, it’s in there on a trial basis, but Johnson says, “So far, so good!”
Johnson says it’s mainly for bowel and bladder control but the other week he stood up for the first time when the stimulator was turned up to a higher level.