Client Story: Latoya Johnson

This is the story of a survivor and that survivor is me. I have survived a tragic accident and violence that should have taken my life. Being molested as a child & a rape survivor. I am a brain injury & a domestic violence survivor. I have contemplated and attempted suicide. I am overcoming depression. I have also survived a gunshot wound. Yes, I was shot in the head.

I believe that I survived those tragic incidents because of extreme strength, faith, and determination. I am living proof that miracles are possible. I hope by sharing my story, I can help save someone else. 

I was a 26-year-old successful hairstylist. My clientele included the Washington Wizards Dance Team and some celebrities. I have styled hair for fashion shows in DC, NJ, and NY, plus calendar, magazine, and video shoots. I also modeled for several hair magazines and hair shows. At the time of my accident I had two other part-time jobs as waitress and a promotional & marketing director for a local record label.  I was a busy woman. and I loved it.

I started dating a guy and for two years, everything was good. After several years of being drug-free, he relapsed and started smoking PCP. When he was high, he was a totally different person. He became very paranoid, physical & verbal abusive towards me and others. He literally turned into a monster.

His outbursts of paranoia and violence become more frequent. 

The night of May 7, 2007, I was working when my boyfriend called and asked me to come to pick him up. I wanted to say no but I didn’t. When I went to pick him up,  he had two of his friends with him. At that point, I decided I was done. I didn’t have an escape plan but the next day I was going to end it.

But things didn’t go as planned. 

A white SUV rode pass us and he asked me to watch out for that SUV. 

As I turning the corner driving up the street, all of sudden a flood of bullets were fired at my car.  One of the bullets traveled through the back windshield and the headrest before hitting me in the crown of my head causing me to crash off the side of the road.

The police were close by and they responded immediately. By the time they arrived the shooters were gone. A police officer proceeded to the front of my car where he found my boyfriend trying to keep me awake. My boyfriend and his friends walked away with no injuries, while I was getting Medvaced to the nearest Trauma hospital. With a bullet that was meant for him.

That was 12:42 am Tuesday morning of May 8, 2007, the day my life truly changed forever. 

I was admitted to Prince George Country Hospital, in critical condition. My surgeon had to see if they could remove the bullet. The bullet landed inches away from the middle of my brain, on a vein, near the main arteries. The fragments landed behind my left eye and forehead. The surgeons decided it would be safe to leave the bullet where they landed because of the risk of me bleeding to death. They told my mom the next 24 hours were critical and would determine my quality of life.

I was heavily sedated in a semi coma; I was hooked up to several tubes and machines. They identified me as Jane Doe because they did not know if my shooting was gang-related. They had several police officers outside the emergency center and Homicide detectives inside ready to take over my case. 

One night I woke up and I started looking around trying to figure out where I was. Thinking to my self, “Where the am I? What the (beep) happened?” I started pulling the breathing tube out & the IV but the nurses and doctor sedated me, putting me back in a semi coma.

After 5 days of being in the ICU, I was finally out of the woods. An orderly moved me upstairs to my room, as I was going in and out of sleep. Later that day, or it could have been a couple of days later, I remember talking to my friend and telling her, ” Girl I don’t know what happened.. But I’ll be out of here in a couple of days then back to work.”

She shook her head and said, “It’s not going to be that simple.” That’s when I knew something was wrong… I tried to get up but my right side wasn’t moving and my left side was weak. My right hand was balled up in a tight fist like I had suffered a stroke. I could not open up my fist. All I could do was squeeze my fist tighter as tears rolled down my face. 

I had to ask her several times, “What happened?” It was like she didn’t want to tell me. She finally told me that I was shot in the head. I was in disbelief saying, “No not me.” I didn’t believe her. I said, “Stop lying”. She said, “I wish I was lying.” I started to feel the top of my head for a wound. I felt a bump as I began to feel a little more, my fingers fell in a small hole.

All I could think was “Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? I asked her, “Did she know where my boyfriend was at?” She told me, I heard that he was locked up, for tripping out off drugs. I was wondering why he couldn’t stay sober to see if I made it out of surgery died or alive.

My behavior became very aggressive. I was frustrated and making rude comments, even using profanity for those around me. I converted back to my childhood behavior by picking my scabs, wound, and nose. 

The doctors explained to my family that my behavior change was expected because of the type of brain injury I had and the medication that I was on. It would take 5 years or more for my brain to completely heal, if ever. They said for a fact that I would never be the same person I was.

My body was in shock and the bullet scrambled my brain by affecting the signals in my brain. I  weighed 130lbs but instantly I shrunk down to 90lbs. I was a 26 yr old infant. I couldn’t sit or stand up without falling over. I could only form particular sentences. I am right handed, but my right hand was balled up in a fist. (Can you imagine someone feeding you?) No way was I going to let that happened. So I learned to feed myself with my left hand. I was wearing Pampers because I couldn’t control my bladder or bowels.

I was hallucinating, thinking the hospital was some kind of laboratory and they were experimenting on me. I kept pulling my IV out and trying to get out of the bed. The nurses had to strap my arms down to the bed so I couldn’t hurt myself.

While in the hospital, I had regular physical therapy sessions. I had to learn to sit, stand up, and feed myself. Simple tasks like rolling over on my stomach were challenging, nearly impossible to do. My communication was poor with my family, friends, and nurses; it landed me in a straight jacket but I didn’t need a straight jacket. I wasn’t crazy, I just had a brain Injury.

The most frustrating thing in the world is knowing what you want to say and being able to think full sentences but only a few words coming out. 

My personality changed. I had no filter and my emotions were all over the place. After 31 days I was released from P.G Country Hospital. I made some progress but not enough. I still couldn’t dress myself. I was still wearing Pampers and I couldn’t stand or turn. 

The only things I could do was feed myself and color. Coloring would help me to stay calm and relieve my headaches. Coloring was something I used to do in therapy sessions. For 2 months, while waiting for my insurance approvals, everything was torture for me.

The hardest thing for me was sitting in the house on a beautiful day, hearing the kids playing in the park outside my window. Knowing that my friends were planning a trip to King Dominion, destination trips and I wasn’t included. My heart was broken and all I could do was cry because there’s was nothing I could do about it.

Since 2007, I have beaten incredible medical odds and overcome a lot of difficult challenges. I went from an adult infant, who couldn’t sit or stand without falling over to walking with a walker. 

I went from being an unpredictable patient to giving everyone HOPE including myself. Of course, there are things that I will NEVER be able to do again, like ride a roller coaster, bungee jump or skydive. I can never hit my head or I would risk being back where I was or worse.

Everything about my new life is an adjustment for me but I believe there are no mistakes in life and everything happens for a reason. I am living proof that miracles are possible. I am a very ambitious young woman. I have the determination to never give up. I am a fighter and a true survivor.  I have never & will never be a victim. 

I hope others can learn from my experiences. Beware of the company you keep and remember, everybody doesn’t have your best interests in mind and can use you for their selfish reasons. 

There is a season and reason for everything. Stay aware & strong. 

I hope my story will help save someone else.

Remember someone else out there in the world is facing tougher challenges than you, so make the best out of life. 

Every day is a gift.

I am grateful and honored for every day that I wake up. I am proud to be one of the 5% that survive a gun wound to the head. I am super proud to be that 3% who can live an independent life.

And I am eternally grateful to be defying the odds every day. As long as you have breathe in your body, anything is possible; you just have to believe. 

To Follow LaToya’s journey and find out about her new book, check out her Instagram

As a part of our brain injury awareness month campaigns, we will be highlighting client stories that truly exemplify the amazing survivors are clients are.  Find out how you can support our work and our clients here.

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