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New lease on life - Roxanne Johnson finds her way after losing leg to motor vehicle crash

Published:Sunday | November 20, 2016 | 11:00 AM
Wearing her prosthetic leg
Roxanne Johnson
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The humdrum of Thursday morning erupted into pandemonium as two cars raced along Spanish Town Road in Kingston. One got out of control, mowing down five students of the Tivoli Gardens High School. Horror and chaos ensued as screams pierced the morning air.

At minutes past 7 a.m., what should have been a regular morning walk to the bus stop on November 15, 2007, turned into a nightmare for 15-year-old Roxanne Johnson, who was pinned against a barbed wire, left leg smashed by the vehicle, dazed by the impact. "When I saw two of the other girls get up, I didn't know that my leg was crushed, so I was about to get up, too, but I realised that it felt heavy. I looked down. I could see the bone. The car ripped through my tibia, and the ankle was detached, with only a piece of skin holding it together," she recounted. "I saw persons running and screaming, and there was total chaos."

Her schoolmates sustained minor injuries, but she had to undergo emergency surgery at the Kingston Public Hospital. After four months in the hospital and subsequent surgeries, nothing could save her leg. It was amputated in 2012, triggering her deepest fears and sending her into depression.

"I was worried because I lost my leg. I didn't get any counselling to deal with the aftermath, so I kept wondering, 'Am I going to ever get a prosthetic leg? Am I going to use crutches the rest of my life? How am I going to cope and fit in society? Will I ever find a husband?'

Her life changed after she saw double amputee Sarah Dunbar on TV. Determined that she must meet this woman who had overcome so much, yet still retained her jovial nature, Johnson set out to find Dunbar. Their first conversation paved the way for her growth, giving her reason to believe that her life could be great despite the setback.

 

PROSTHETIC LEG

 

"Sarah told me that she drives, does everything, and was able to achieve her goals, so I shouldn't worry about it. She counselled me, and that uplifted my spirit," said Johnson. Now 24 years old, and wearing a prosthetic leg, Johnson continues to use each day to demonstrate her new lease on life. She has secured five passes at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate level, one at the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exam level, certificates from the University of Technology and the Management Institute for National Development, and is exploring a degree in nursing.

Paula Fletcher, executive director of the National Road Safety Council, points out that road crash victims often experience a spectrum of emotions and life-changing circumstances. "At the crux of that is coming to terms with the fact that things will be different, and often, they have to endure the consequences of these crashes for years. As we commemorate World Day of Remembrance (WDR) for road traffic victims this year, I am asking all Jamaicans to share an encouraging word with those who have been affected by road crashes," Fletcher said.

 

PAYING TRIBUTE

 

WDR is observed annually on the third Sunday in November by an increasing number of countries globally. The day is dedicated to remembering the millions injured or killed in road crashes, and their families and communities, as well as to pay tribute to the dedicated emergency crews, police, and medical professionals who, daily, deal with the traumatic aftermath of road death and injury.

Johnson has become more empathetic since her ordeal and extends a word of advice for moving on from the haunting memories and consequences of a crash. "Cry if you want to cry so you can get rid of the negative emotions. Don't keep it inside. There are people around to keep your company - allow them. Think ahead and think about what you want from life. Think positive."