DES MOINES, Iowa – Greg Johnson was a little more than a month removed from his daughter's college graduation when he got the call that shocked his system and made his wife's knees buckle.
Kelsey Johnson – their 22-year-old daughter with a soul for adventure and plans to teach – had been hit by a car while on a run, tossed 35 feet by the impact.
"I likened it to white lightning – you feel it going through your body, almost a physiological reaction," Greg Johnson said. "I was stunned and shocked. It hits your heart, as well."
The Prairie Ridge High School graduate was out on a routine run in Des Moines – home to her new alma mater, Drake University – when she was struck.
The driver told police the light at the intersection turned yellow as she was approaching, and that she tried to make it through rather than hit the brakes, Des Moines Police Sgt. Jason Halifax said.
"She had enough distance where she should have been able to stop," Halifax said.
Johnson, who had been waiting at the intersection, began to cross and was struck by the car at near full speed on the 35-mph street, Halifax said.
The driver, a 19-year-old who was driving on a learner's permit without another licensed driver, is facing three charges in the incident – restricted license violation, failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk and failure to obey a traffic control device.
Johnson suffered a fractured neck and moderate brain damage, among other injuries. She spent time in the Neuro/Trauma/Medical Intensive Care Unit at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines before being transferred to the neurology unit, where she remains.
Greg Johnson said the family is cautiously optimistic that Kelsey will continue her current path of daily improvement.
"They're expecting her to do very well in recovery," he said.
It could have been worse, Greg Johnson said. In more extreme cases, the brain shearing she suffered – called a diffuse axonal injury – can significantly impair a patient or cause the individual to go brain dead.
While it's early to make predictions about future recovery, Greg Johnson said doctors have been encouraged by positive signs in the early going.
"We still realize that there might be impediments to recovery that are physical issues we don't know about yet, but we're staying as optimistic as we feel we can," he said.
And the family has been taken aback by the overflowing support during the challenging time. Friends set up a fundraising page to help with mounting medical bills. As of Monday afternoon, nearly $15,000 in donations had rolled in.
And the figure doesn't measure the nonmonetary support the family has received from Kelsey's friends.
"It's been an exceedingly rewarding few days from that standpoint," Greg Johnson said. "Worry and lack of sleep is one thing. But they couldn't be more generous in terms of wanting to help, and keeping Kelsey cheered up while they're here. It's very heartwarming."