Baseball Coach Thanks Stranger for Saving Daughter
by Brent Frazier
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - After 30-plus years in professional baseball, Ron Johnson faces the biggest challenge of his life. And it's light years from the sports arena.
At 54-years-old, Johnson, a first base coach for the Boston Red Sox, is struggling to lead his family through a near-death experience involving his youngest daughter, Bridget, who turns 11 next Wednesday. And Johnson, who's monitoring his daughter's recovery at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, is publicly thanking the total stranger who saved Bridget's life last Sunday: a total stranger known simply as "Bernie."
"He jumped out of his car, put a death grip on my daughter's leg and, from what I understand would not let go even when paramedics go there. Every doctor in this hospital told me if it wasn't this guy's act, and the way this guy responded, my daughter bleeds out on the side of the road," Coach Johnson said, admitting that Bernie, the Good Samaritan and humble hero, would be displeased that the coach is revealing even his first name.
Johnson spoke exclusively with NewsChannel 5 from a fifth floor conference room at Vandy Children's Hospital, updating the world on his daughter's condition. Bridget Johnson was moved out of intensive care and into a private room on Friday, five days after being hit by a car while riding her horse along Cooper Road in the Warren County town of Morrison. The Tennessee Highway Patrol is still investigating the mid-afternoon collision that forced a veterinarian to put down Bridget's horse, Rhonda.
The coach said Bridget's left leg was severed, at the knee, at the scene of the accident. He said doctors re-stitched the limb and are hopeful Bridget's young body will not reject it. The coach, "RJ" as he's known to friends and family, said doctors did detect a pulse after reattaching the limb, but it's no guarantee the leg will naturally adhere to the child's body.
Coach Johnson said he was in Boston, and had just wrapped a victorious game for the Sox, when he got word of the accident last weekend. He was on an airplane, bound for Nashville, within 45 minutes.
Johnson admits he's managed to fly under the radar the last roughly five years since he moved his family to rural Warren County. The father of five said his two youngest children, both girls, had always longed for horses, a hobby that requires a rural setting. Now, his high profile, public figure is getting a serious lesson in Southern hospitality. The coach said he and his family are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from people living in and around the town of Morrison.
"People coming out of the woodwork," the coach said, adding that good Samaritans were bringing food to the house and to the hospital; handing his teenage son gas money at church; asking about the little girl's welfare; praying and sending well wishes to the Johnson's.
"And I'm done, we love it here," the coach said about his and his wife's decision to retire in Tennessee.
Ten-year-old Bridget Johnson, an honor student at Warren County Middle School, is set to become a 6th grader when school starts in just days. The coach admits, though, that the child's health is top priority and school, at least right now, looks iffy at best.
The coach is thrilled by his daughter's quick recovery thus far; he's encouraged by her prognosis, but admits it's literally a day-by-day journey for this family that's extraordinarily close, in the eyes of the coach.
"Her leg's - it's back and it's on. We're not sure how this is gonna go, but either way it does go, she will do, down the road, she's gonna be doing the things she needs to do. I just know that," said Johnson.
Johnson said that Good Samaritan Bernie stopped by Vanderbilt Children's Hospital Thursday afternoon to meet the family. It was there the Good Samaritan was adamant about remaining in the shadows for what he'd done.