On a typical Tuesday late afternoon, Colby Johnson and wife Jo can be found out on the back patio of their Louisville, Nebraska home, playing with their two young sons. Colby reflects on being a dad to Cooper and Bo.
“The dad-thing has really been a life-changing thing because we have two kids-a 4 ½ year old and a 1 ½ year old, and I get up in the morning, get the kids ready, diaper changing, changing clothes. My life is not like other people’s lives for sure, but there are things I do need help with but there are so many things that I can either help with or I can do myself,” Colby said.
On July 4, 2010, Colby was celebrating his independence alongside family and friends at a private lake near Wisner, Nebraska, when he attempted a shallow dive. from that second, Colby says everything changed. “I was face down in the water. My wife knew that something wasn’t right.”
Jo, a lifeguard, rolled Colby over and noticed he was having difficulty breathing. She and family members supported Colby for 30 minutes in the water until help could arrive.
After transport to Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa, tests revealed that Colby had shattered the C-6 cervical region of his spinal cord, resulting in an incomplete spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed. Four days after the accident, a weakened Colby began rehabilitation at Madonna. “I was unable to lift my arms or grasp a fork or a spoon.”
Jo recalls, “To see him go from this athletic guy to someone who can’t even sit up without passing out was difficult.”
Colby, with Jo by his side, spent five months recovering at Madonna. During that time his care team introduced him to muscle-strengthening technology including the Moveo XP, the FES Bike and the Lokomat, a robotic gait trainer. “We celebrated when Colby could sit up without passing out. We celebrated when he got his pinch back. Those little small steps you just have to celebrate all of them,” Jo said.
Despite his life-changing injury, Colby’s spirit and sense of humor remained intact and he made huge gains. “Everybody at Madonna offers so much support and so much encouragement that it just inspires you while you’re there.”
Fast forward 10 years and Colby describes his life as normal. He mows the lawn, gets the kids up and dressed and shuttles them off to daycare before going to work. He also continues with his passions of flying radio-controlled helicopters, hunting, fishing and even camping. “My sons had never gone camping so we set the tent up in the backyard this year to do a test run.”
He continues to give back at Madonna through his involvement as a Foundation board member and a peer support volunteer. “You can’t give up. You just never know what day is going to be the best day for you. Find a way to improve your life whether it’s something really little.”
Adds Jo, “and just hang on to each other because that’s where the hope comes from.”