UMATILLA, Fla. – A Umatilla teen who was once in a coma and suffered a traumatic brain injury took the most memorable steps of her life, even though doctors said she would never walk again.
Graduating from high school is a huge accomplishment on its own. For Kayla Johnson, this moment meant more than receiving her diploma.
“Ever since freshman year I said I’m going to walk graduation day, whenever I graduate,” Kayla Johnson said.
The 18-year-old said she always knew the day would come despite the challenges she faced.
“You hope, but you also didn’t want her to get her hopes too high ‘cause you don’t know the outcome,” her father Cliff Johnson said.
Cliff Johnson said he remembers the day their lives changed forever.
In October 2017, he and his daughter were riding in a truck offroad through a muddy area. A hitch pulled apart, smashed into the back of their truck, and hit Kayla in the head.
The impact fractured her skull.
Doctors performed emergency brain surgery and placed her in a medically-induced coma for two months, but feared she wouldn’t survive.
“Anybody that knows Kayla, she’s too stubborn to give up. She’ll do it and she has. She has beat the odds,” Cliff Johnson said.
Kayla continued to overcome obstacles and defy her doctors, who told her she wouldn’t breathe or eat on her own and she wouldn’t walk again.
“Every time she’s told she can’t do something she proves them wrong,” Cliff Johnson said.
She spent the last four years recovering from her traumatic brain injury by undergoing intense rehab while still keeping up with her studies at Umatilla High School
“I took a lot of naps during the day and plus I had homework and it was a lot,” she said.
All of her hard work led up to graduation day, where Kayla surprised her fellow graduates by using a walker to cross the stage and receive her diploma.
The audience gave her a standing ovation.
“That’s a proud moment in life, that’s something you can’t take away,” Cliff Johnson said.
Kayla said she wants to become a motivational speaker and hopes sharing her story will inspire others. She said she’s taking a year off from school to focus on her walking.
“My next goal after the walker, I’m going to be walking with a cane,” she said.