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Dana Darnell Johnson

Dana Johnson was a blessing to his family and many others

Dana Johnson was a blessing to his family and many others

November 23, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note:? Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Dana Darnell Johnson, who died Nov. 13 at the age of 33. His obituary was published in the Nov. 14 edition of The Herald-Mail.

From the moment that Debra Reynolds gave birth to her first child 33 years ago, she knew that he would be special.

And though Dana Darnell Johnson bore the label of cerebral palsy victim his whole life, Debra said he was a blessing to his family and many others who were fortunate enough to move in his orbit.

"Dana never walked and said only a few words," Debra said.

When he was a small child, Dana was able to say "momma" and "nana," but that ability was short-lived.

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Debra said she kept Dana home the first three years of his life. She then placed him at the Potomac Center for the developmentally disabled, agonizing over the decision.

"Some people tried to make me feel guilty for not keeping Dana at home," Debra said. But she pointed out that Dana thrived at the center, where he had many opportunities he wouldn't have had at home.

Debra said Dana went to concerts and developed a lifelong love of music while at the Potomac Center.

"When Dana was listening to music, he had fewer seizures," said his grandmother, Hazel Preston. Dana would wear a headset and move his body to the beat of the music as he listened.

Dana was Hazel's first grandchild, and she described him as an amazing child from the start when he defied the odds and came home from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after his difficult birth in Hagerstown.

"He pulled through so many times," Hazel said. "Every time the phone rang, we worried."

To Hazel and Debra, Dana was a normal child - in his own way.

"There were just things he couldn't do," Debra said.

Seven years after Dana was born, Debra had another child - a son, Brandon, whose birth was uncomplicated.

"Even though he was going through difficult times, Dana was always smiling," Brandon said by telephone.

Often when Brandon visited his older brother, he would entertain Dana by dancing around and making him happy, Debra said.

"Brandon always came to see Dana," Debra said. "He never denied his brother and was very protective of him."

Debra and Hazel said there were a number of Potomac Center and Arc of Washington County staff members who contacted the family after Dana's death. Many also were in attendance at his funeral service.

"He got to go to camp, went on hayrides and even met The Coasters," she said. "I couldn't have done that for him."

Dana spent time the summer when he was 8 at Camp New Horizon, which was sponsored by the Western Maryland Division of United Cerebral Palsy.

Held at Martin L. "Marty" Snook Memorial Park in Halfway, the camp helped Dana and others experience the outdoors, learn new skills and have fun.

While Dana was housed at the Potomac Center, Debra said she would routinely drop in unannounced.

When Debra moved away for a time, the staff at the Potomac Center took care of him.

"They spoiled him there and were very protective of him," she said.

Dana progressed through the Potomac Center program and was a resident of the Pinesburg residential facility near Williamsport operated by Arc of Washington County when he died Nov. 13 at the age of 33.

Knowing that Dana was able to enjoy many of the joys of life helps Debra to deal with his loss. She also said she knows he is at peace and not suffering any more.

Though Dana was never able to say "I love you" to her, Debra said she and her son shared a greeting that always felt very loving to her.

"I took my nose and rubbed it against his nose and he'd always give me a big smile," she said.

Just thinking about that made her smile, but that feeling quickly was replaced by melancholy.

"I just always thought he'd be here," Debra said.

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