Stephanie with son Chris at workbench

Stephanie Johnson

Unbreakable Bond

Stephanie Johnson spent most of her life and career in service to others. The mother of two retired from the Marines in 1996 with the rank of Sergeant 2nd FSSG, where she worked in the administrative and legal area. She had plans to continue to work in the legal field after she left the Marines, but life had a different plan for her. Instead, she came home to take care of her sick mother.

“I needed to be close to my mom, so I took a job driving a school bus. I loved it! People may not realize how teachers, bus drivers and others who work with school children have the chance to inspire kids. It’s much more than a 9-5 job,” she said.

She would see the benefits of the care she lavished on the kids in an unexpected way in 2010. That was when she discovered that the lump on her foot that she initially noticed in xxxx while still in the Marines was back. “It first came up while I was still in uniform, and I had it checked out and it didn’t seem like much. But when it came back and I went to the doctor, it turned out that it was much more serious.” She was sent to Little Rock for a consult and son DJ went with her. That is when she discovered that she had a rare form of cancer called synoval sarcoma. “I was expecting to have the lump removed and that it would be no big deal. I was devastated to learn that not only was it cancer, but that the doctor told me that I would have to have my foot amputated. Thank the Lord I had DJ with me. He held my hand and was my rock,” she recalled.

“My mom has always been my best friend,” DJ said. “I saw how discouraged she was when she got the news, and I wanted to break down myself. But, I had to stay strong for her. She’s always been the strong one for everyone else and doesn’t take as good care of herself as she should, so I knew I was going to need to step in.”

There were no specialists in the area that were familiar with the type of cancer Stephanie had, so the surgery had to be performed in Little Rock. DJ was by her side for the entire ordeal. “I stayed in the hospital in Arkansas for two days after the surgery, and then told my doctor I wanted to go home. He was surprised and asked me if I was sure that was what I wanted. I told him I could sit at home and be in pain just as easy as I could sit there in pain. I wanted to be close to my family, so I left the hospital and went back to Louisiana.” It was a very difficult time for everyone. And while daughter Nellisha and husband Darrell were there for her, son DJ took the brunt of the situation. He had to drop out of college that semester in order to be with his mom 24/7.

He was also the one that took her to her appointments with Snell’s. “I was there at Snell’s with her the first time she walked on her prosthetic leg. It was just amazing to see her regain her mobility and confidence. I was sure all along that she would be okay, but I don’t think she was until that day,” said DJ.

Stephanie noted: “You think you love someone, and then you see what they have done for you when the time comes to make a sacrifice. The kinds of sacrifices my husband and my children made for me when I was going through all of this showed me how enduring their love for me really was.”

And the outpouring of love didn’t end there. Remember those school children that Stephanie drove every day? The families of the children got together and constructed a new accessible porch and bathroom at her house. “I was just overwhelmed with gratefulness,” she said. “I still see some of my “kids” when I am out in the community, and they tell me they want me to come back,” she laughed.

Stephanie started her journey to get a prosthesis with Snell’s and has been with them ever since. “They’re family to me now. When I first came in I was so down and not sure how the process was going to work. They took me back in the back and showed me how they make the legs and went out of their way to make me comfortable. If I had to use one word to describe the people at Snell’s it would be ‘genuine’,” she went on to say. “Karla, Mary and Derrick have gotten to be friends to me. When my mother in law passed, I called and talked to Mary and Karla and they were such a comfort to me.”

DJ went on to complete his college education at University of Louisiana at Monroe, earning a degree in criminal justice. “When he graduated in 2013, he looked and looked for a job. He became a substitute teacher for a while, but that wasn’t what he really wanted. I suggested that he talk to Mr. Snell and see if they had any openings. At first they didn’t, but then a spot came open and they interviewed DJ and he got the job. Karla said maybe the reason the others didn’t pan out was so he could come to work at Snell’s,” Stephanie remembered.

DJ shared how he feels about working at Snell’’s: “It’s the best thing in the world. Knowing that I am doing a job that affects people in a positive way. Seeing how beneficial Snell’s was to my family it’s great to see others get that same sense of joy. This is an amazing company, who really cares about our patients. We want to see them succeed and we give it our all, every day.”

Clint Snell commented: “We are proud to have D J on the staff. He shadowed Prosthetists at first, then progressed with assisting them. D J was so productive we hired him as a prosthetic technician where he has excelled. It is neat to see him working with his mom on her prosthesis. D J brings a special empathy to the job that was instilled in him from his wonderful family.”