Athena Johnson was diagnosed with spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, when she was 9 months old. Doctors told her parents, Molly and George Johnson, that because of the spasticity their daughter may not walk.
That’s when the Johnson’s medical marathon began. Athena had her first appointment at Shriners Hospital when she was 1 ½ years old, and her care continues today.
Initial treatments included Botox injections to relax the muscles in both of her legs, casting, custom designed orthotics and physical therapy. “At 26-months-and-1-week old, she began to walk and she hasn’t slowed down since,” says Molly.
Even more dramatic change came in January 2013, after Dr. Jon Davids, a leading expert in cerebral palsy, performed complex orthopaedic surgery on Athena’s leg and foot to improve her gait. Surgery was followed by a year of physical therapy.
“Now, if most people saw Athena walking through the grocery store they would never know she has faced a challenging day in her life,” says Molly. “There’s hardly anything Athena doesn’t do. She’s very goal oriented and likes to challenge herself,” she adds.
Athena’s grandfather started Eppie’s Great Race in Sacramento in 1973, and this spring Athena competed in the Eppie’s Kids Duathlon.
“She got her brother (EJ) to teach her the proper skills for running, which she had never been able to do correctly prior to her big surgery. She then worked with her brother and their PE coach for about two months, and we did some family bike riding,” says Molly.
The race took place on May 17, 2014. Athena ran the two-mile course, biked 5.5 miles and crossed the finish line as the final athlete of the day with a great big smile and a weeping mother right behind her.
Clearly, they were tears of joy.
Age: 11 1/2
Hometown: Sacramento, Calif.
Why Shriners: Spastic Diplegia, a form of Cerebral Palsy
Patient Since: 2004