NEJC Faces: Rosalind Johnson, survivor


Rosalind Johnson spent three years working for the city of Mission, serving as a liaison between the city and its neighborhoods. But a decade before she started that job, she came terrifyingly close to death. A case of pneumococcal pneumonia progressed far beyond its normal severity, leaving her in a coma clinging to life. Here’s the story in her words:

Rosalind Johnson: I was very athletic, very involved in all sorts of organization. I never got sick. I never missed school for an illness. But my senior year of high school in 2002, I was feeling kind of just ill. By the end of Christmas break, I was crawling around on the floor to move around. My mom said, “We’ve got to get you to the hospital.”

We got to the pediatric doctor and he said, “Her organs are shutting down.” They admitted me to the hospital, and from that point I don’t remember anything. They put me in a drug-induced coma for 36 days. The doctors didn’t know what was happening to me. They thought maybe I had AIDS. They thought I had lupus. I was basically a test dummy. So eventually they did a liver biopsy and realized that my liver enzymes were elevated. It turned out I have auto-immune liver disease. If I had not gotten the pneumococcal pneumonia they would have never known I had a liver disease. I was not getting better and because of that detail, they realized there was something much deeper in my system that was causing me not to get better.

I have pictures, but I don’t remember any of it. They flatlined me three times where they thought I was dead. “Call the priest for the last rites” kind of thing. It took a while to come to. They said I was going in and out for a long time. I have these fuzzy memories. I had this idea that Ronald McDonald had come to visit me, but he never came to visit me. I was dating a football player at the time, and I kept thinking I heard a football practice happening above me. Just hours and hours of football practice sounds.

Eventually, my organs started coming back online. When I got out of the hospital, I’d lost probably 50 pounds. But I got back and started playing lacrosse again and was voted on the prom court. It was just kind of a fluke thing.