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October 14, 2009Wednesday's a great day for USC, and most importantly, it's a great day for Stafon Johnson.
Johnson, his doctors and his family gathered and met with the media at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles before being discharged a mere 16 days after a life-threatening weightlifting accident.
The meeting shed light on the gravity of Johnson's injury and the remarkable fortitude and spirit the Trojan running back has shown in recovery.
Johnson's uncle, Kregg Anderson, read a statement Johnson wrote prior to the press conference.
"I'm just so filled with joy as I'm graduating from one stage of life and onto the next obstacles," Johnson wrote. "Even the little things at this point count."
The next obstacles aren't little things, as Johnson is still fighting to speak, swallow and breathe comfortably. Johnson, who wore a cardinal USC hat and a black Trojan sweatshirt, is still receiving help breathing from a tracheostomy tube.
Dr. Jason Hamilton, the first surgeon to see Johnson after the accident, expressed his surprise in Johnson's recovery considering the severity of the injury.
"The recovery process here involves three factors," Hamilton said. "First, it's nutrition, which again, Stafon's very healthy. The second thing is factors related to genetics. The third thing is his will and his mental fortitude.
"As an athlete, Stafon already has the mental ability to push through many obstacles. He's already done that so far. He's made extreme progress to this date, and we expect him to continue to make progress."
Johnson's athleticism and physicality also just might have saved his life.
"His physical stature and his will to survive allowed him to make it to the hospital," Hamilton said. "When I first evaluated him, I was surprised he even made it to the hospital at all. That's a testament to him fighting from the beginning."
Johnson's mother, Kim Mallory, hasn't left her son since the injury and seemed overwhelmed with the support she and her son received after news of the injury spread around the country. Mallory said she even heard from UCLA fans.
"I want to thank everyone," she said. "If you sent a card, if you sent a text, if you sent posters, if you sent flowers, you showed Stafon how much you cared. That meant a lot for us. It enabled us to go on in this process because it showed Stafon how many people out there love him and are concerned for him."
The Trojans will honor Johnson with a sticker on the back of their helmets starting this Saturday at Notre Dame.
Johnson and his mother watched USC's 30-3 win over Cal, a win many players said "was Stafon."
"It was overwhelming for him," Mallory said. "He's pushing in bed like he's Allen Bradford trying to get a touchdown. The whole time, it was like he was in the game, but from afar. He enjoyed it."
Johnson's road to full recovery seems very possible. When the topic of playing football again was brought up, Johnson smiled and nodded his head. The road, though, is long.
"We're going to keep fighting on," Mallory said.
Dr. Ryan Osborne, the director of head and neck surgery for the Osborne Head and Neck Institute, said Johnson's fighting spirit has left him a changed man.
"I wasn't a football fan before, but I am now," Osborne said. "You can't help it. Stafon's just infectious."
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