MAY – An Aug. 26 one-vehicle rollover accident took part of the left leg of May High School senior Dilan Johnston.
But the wreck could not extinguish the 17-year-old multi-sport athlete’s thousand-megawatt smile, his sense of humor or his determination to continue on with the plans he was already making.
After spending nearly a month in a hospital, Johnston has been back in school for several weeks and is on track to graduate in May. Johnston is in the process of being fitted for a prosthesis, and he anticipates being able to play basketball and baseball again.
He plans to attend college — Tarleton or Angelo State are possibilities — and he wants to become a coach.
Johnston, who also played football for the six-man May Tigers, is known as Puddin. In an interview at May High School recently, Johnston — who is using crutches until he receives his prosthesis — laughed when asked how he got that name.
A coach gave it to him, Johnston said, although he isn’t sure why.
After doctors at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth had to amputate his left leg just above the knee, Johnston said, he remembered a line from a movie. “I remembered this quote, and I say it a lot now,” Johnston said. “I said ‘this is just a minor setback for a major comeback.’”
The close-knit May community has stayed close to Johnston, his parents, Jason and Stephanie Johnston and other family members, raising money and offering encouragement.
May principal Nick Heupel said via email, “Dilan is a true inspiration to the school of May and the entire May community. His attitude and determination is a true testament to him as a person and his faith.
“It has also been a blessing to witness the support of his fellow classmates and so many others. We have seen many others schools show their support with donations, tributes at football games and letters.”
Also through email, Stephanie Johnston said, “I wish I could list everyone and every business that has shown support for our son, but I know I would leave someone out. We have had numerous fundraisers, individuals, businesses that have donated items.
“We know individuals that have created fundraisers and have donated that have lost loved ones and/or are fighting illness. What happened to Dilan was traumatic, but we can still give him a hug every day, and for that we are truly blessed.”
Stephanie Johnston also noted that West Texas Rehab and CMS Healthcare have been gracious and accommodating in assisting with her son’s recovery.
“The staff and students at May ISD have taken Dilan in as one of their own since he started school there,” she continued. “We feel strongly that the support from surrounding communities, Early, Brownwood and all six-man communities has played a major role in Dilan’s support and attitude.
“We are beyond blessed and truly thankful for all the prayers and support.”
Dilan Johnston said he lives in Early with his family and attended school in Brownwood through his freshman year.
The morning of Aug. 26 began like any other, and Johnston got into his 1999 Chevrolet Blazer and headed for football practice in May. Johnston played offensive end and defensive end for the Tigers.
As Johnston made the monotonous drive on U.S. Highway 183, “I guess I just started thinking about stuff,” Johnston said. “I zoned out.” About two miles south of May, the Blazer drifted onto the right shoulder of the highway, which grabbed Johnston’s attention.
“I over-corrected and it shot me across the road,” Johnston said. “That’s when I lost control and started to flip.”
The Blazer rolled multiple times and landed on its top, hidden in heavy brush down an incline, several yards off the highway.
Johnston blacked out, and when he revived, he wasn’t in pain — but he was trapped, unable to get out of the wrecked Blazer. He would remain trapped for 2 ½ hours.
“It’s kind of stupid, but I grabbed my wallet and threw it in the air, hoping somebody would see it — but it didn’t work,” Johnston said.
Johnston could hear the sounds of traffic passing by. “I’m like, can nobody see me?” Johnston said with a laugh. “Does anybody love me? That’s what I was thinking.”
When Johnston didn’t show up for school, his cousin and classmate, Seth Johnston, texted Johnston’s older brother, Preston. Seth asked Preston — who had already graduated from May and lives down the street from the rest of the family — if Dilan was sick.
Dilan had gotten up and left for school, Preston answered.
Alarmed, Preston texted his and Dilan’s mother. Stephanie Johnston use an app called Life360 to find Dilan’s phone. After the app gave Stephanie the location of Dilan’s phone, Stephanie, Preston and Dilan’s aunt Lisa showed up at the crash site in separate vehicles and found the wreck after one of the three managed to see the tires on the upside-down Blazer.
“Mom, I’m OK,” Dilan told his mom.
Dilan was flown by an Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter to the Fort Worth hospital. The young man knew when he got there that his left leg was in bad shape, as the lower part of his leg had been without blood flow while he was trapped.
“As soon as I got to the doctors, I told them ‘if you have to take it, it’s OK,’” Johnston said. “I knew something was going to happen to it. They did try saving it but the calf kept dying. They just had to take it.”
While Johnston did have some down moments after doctors took the leg, he bounced back with his characteristic sense of humor. “I’ve always been like that,” Johnston said. “I just have that personality where I try to overcome everything. Humor is what’s really got me through it.”
After Johnston was released from the hospital, he attended the remainder of the Tigers football games, watching the action while seated in a wheelchair along the sidelines. He traveled on the bus with the team to out-of-town games.
“I feel like a small community is the best, because you basically know everyone and they’re always there for your support,” Johnston said.
The support he’s received from his football teammates has been “awesome,” Johnston said. “They helped me out a lot. They’re like brothers to me, basically.”
Johnston said he hopes to be an inspiration to others. He said he thinks the accident has made him a better person and changed his outlook, showing him “I need to savor every moment and every second.”
Johnston added, “I think I’ll be able to do everything again.”