Teen with muscular dystrophy graduates high school from hospital bed days before death
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - A Tennessee high school brought a graduation ceremony to the hospital to fulfill the final wish of a teen suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Dakota Johnson, 19, died Friday after Johnson City Schools honored him with a cap, gown and diploma while he was on his hospital bed Wednesday.
“It meant a lot. We were just thrilled that he got to do it. And he had that last smile I saw on his face, is when he got that diploma in his hand,” Johnson's grandmother and caregiver Wilma Reed said.
Alison Russell, who was Johnson's home-bound teacher since 7th grade, organized the event within 24 hours.
Johnson had developed congestive heart failure and was admitted to the ICU. And that's when Russell realized they needed to act fast.
“We were not sure whether or not he would recover well enough to make it to graduation, so I decided to ask Science Hill (High School) about the possibility of an early graduation ceremony for him,” Russell said.
Carrie Stamper Medley, who is close friends with Johnson's aunt, said Johnson told his grandmother that there were two things he wanted to do: go to prom and graduate. Reed said her grandson was ready for prom, and already had a date.
“He may not have been able to go to prom, but the smile and excitement on his face, as you can see in the photos, was a true blessing from God,” Medley said of the graduation ceremony.
Medley applauded the teacher's efforts.
“You couldn't have asked for a better teacher than the one he had, she really cares about her students, along with Science Hill High School, being able to make this happen from his ICU room,” Medley said. “It's like God made all this come together, and waited to take him until it was done.”
Russell said Johnson was delighted and “his grandmother said she thought it was probably the happiest day of his life.”
“I am so thankful that we were able to honor him and his hard work by giving him his diploma that day. He had been pushing himself to make it to graduation and would have been disappointed if he hadn’t had that experience,” Russell said. “It was one of the most amazing moments of my professional career and my personal life.”
Russell said Johnson had a “wonderful sense of humor” and made the most of the life he was given. She said he will be missed by many.
A fundraising campaign on Facebook is raising money for Johnson's funeral expenses.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.