Meet the Johnson Family

Atlanta’s two Ronald McDonald Houses have not only been home for nearly 2,000 families this year, but they have also been witness to important milestones and occasions – birthdays, first steps, first words, and many more.

The Johnston family recently experienced an important milestone of their own while staying at the Peachtree Dunwoody Ronald McDonald House. On September 26, 11-year-old Caleb Johnston looked to his mom, Je-Ann, and slowly said, “Mmmmom.” Je-Ann cried as she listened to her son’s first word since June. She and Caleb celebrated this incredible moment together, and have learned to not take a single moment for granted.

Caleb spent his childhood racing BMX bicycles, and by the summer of 2013 was ranked number one in his age group for his district in Tennessee. But despite his many accomplishments, tragedy would soon strike. On June 21, Caleb was at the BMX track in Morristown, TN practicing for the state qualifier. As he practiced, Caleb collapsed and began seizing on the track.  He was immediately airlifted to the local hospital where doctors discovered he had suffered an aneurysm in the left side of his brain. The injury was the size of a baseball and severely affected his motor skills and speech. Caleb underwent two brain surgeries in which the clot and a portion of his skull were removed, but due to the severity of his injury, Caleb would require intense rehabilitation.

After 32 days in the pediatric intensive care unit at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, doctors referred Caleb to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. Shortly after, the Johnston family checked in at the Ronald McDonald House and quickly felt at home. Caleb and Je-Ann have found an incredible support system in the other families staying at the House. “We met another family whose child suffered from an aneurysm, too,” describes Je-Ann, “our kids are so similar and close in age. We just connect.”

Caleb attends daily rehabilitation where he is relearning basic skills such as eating and sipping through a straw. “When we first got here, Caleb could barely hold his head up,” Je-Ann explains, “now he is walking and playing with the other kids.” While Caleb is at rehab, Je-Ann spends time with the other parents at the House. “We do everything together,” she says, “we laugh and have a good time together. We complain and stress out together. We are all going through the same thing… together.”

Caleb in the hospital after his
second surgery. 
Caleb with his family. Pet therapy at the House.