LOS ANGELES (AP)—Although Stafon Johnson only spoke seven words, they were loaded with meaning and hope.
Repeating the last words spoken to him by his late grandfather, the Southern California tailback said, “God has a plan. Run, Stafon, run.”
Johnson already can speak in a soft, raspy voice less than three months after a weight bar crushed his throat in a potentially fatal weight room accident. He briefly demonstrated his remarkable recovery Saturday before the Trojans’ game against Stanford.
“Just the whisper, it was a big thing,” said Kim Mallory, Johnson’s mother. “I wasn’t expecting any type of sound for a while. It’s overwhelming.”
Johnson also has regained the ability to swallow and eat solid food, an improbably quick achievement after several operations on his neck, according to the doctors who have supervised his recovery since the late-September accident in the USC weight room.
Dr. Ryan Osborne said the tracheostomy tube has been removed from Johnson’s throat, and he no longer has a feeding tube in his stomach.
“Anyone looking at him today, or who heard the story, would say it’s miraculous,” said Dr. Jason Hamilton, a throat specialist. “No physician can tell a patient what his chances are for recovery. He never put limitations on himself, and that’s why he’s making great strides.”
Johnson has had three more operations since leaving the hospital Oct. 14. His right vocal cord was torn away from its mooring and his larynx was crushed.
His doctors seemed even more impressed by his ability to swallow, thinking it might be impossible for someone with such a severe injury.
“Due to a gladiator-type mentality toward his outcome … he has regained the ability to swallow,” Osborne said.
It’s too early to tell whether Johnson has the interest or ability to return to the sport. When asked if he intended to play for USC next season, he responded with a shrug.
Mallory isn’t surprised by Johnson’s determination. Johnson decided he wanted to play football when he was 5 years old, and no amount of cajoling from his mother—“Don’t you want to play baseball? Don’t you think basketball is better?” she recalled saying—could dissuade him from the violent sport.
“(There are) good days, bad days, but because Stafon is a fighter, there’s never been any (depression),” Mallory said.
Johnson only gets emotional at the thought of not being able to speak to his young son, Stafon Jr., but he’s not even on medication for pain or depression, a common necessity for patients with similar injuries.
Johnson’s doctors and family all seem optimistic for something approaching a full recovery.
“Will there be any limitations on him?” Osborne asked. Those are only going to be set by Stafon.”