Families across America are asking how much they can take. Doctors say many are experiencing symptoms of PTSD after surviving COVID-19 or watching loved ones suffer through the virus. Families are navigating past trauma during more uncertain times.
In little Springfield, Tennessee, just about everybody knows a man who’s there for the best days of their lives, the memories they treasure. His name is DJ Johnny Gardner.
“He gets you out there!” smiled Martha Webb, who works in a downtown boutique.
“No one is going to be sitting down,” laughed Makayla Wilson, speaking at a beauty parlor.
“If you’re sitting down, he’s going to come find you, and you know he’s going to come find you,” added Joy Ray, speaking between bartending. “He is happy to be there. You can tell he loves his job.”
“He teaches you all the dances,” said Webb. “He makes you feel like, OK, I can do this.’ He’s just an amazing person.”
“Family reunions, weddings, proms, school events, anything that involves music, my dad does it,” said Ashley Woodson.
Nobody knows DJ Johnny’s spirit better than his daughter, Ashley Woodson, and her 2-year-old girl, Kimmie.
“Everyone has the same story,” said Ashley Woodson. “They could feel his love and his energy.”
A town remembers well the last time DJ Johnny told them to get up and dance. It was a year ago when DJ Johnny was diagnosed with COVID-19, and complications led to a massive stroke.
The many long days of DJ Johnny’s stay in hospitals began to pass.
“He flatlined three times,” recalled Woodson. “I just remember being scared, ‘Are they going to call us and tell us my dad is dead?’”
Adding to that pain, 14 members of Woodson’s family were diagnosed with COVID-19; six placed in an ICU. Among the diagnosed was Woodson’s little girl, Kimmie. Then, COVID took the life of Woodson's grandfather.
“It became a nightmare,” she said. “The virus is real. It struck our family that fast.”
As the days in hospitals continued, Woodson began to wonder if her father would ever come home.
“I had these thoughts of this might be the end," she said.
According to Psychiatric Times, post-traumatic stress disorder can come from any event where your life or safety is at risk, which includes families like Woodson’s, ravaged by the coronavirus. The Henry Ford Health System says the signs of PTSD include nightmares reliving the experience and emotions that feel out of control. Many families like Woodson's are being given a major reminder of their trauma through the return of mask mandates and effects of the surging delta variant.
“We will be dealing with this for the rest of our lives,” said Woodson.
DJ Johnny was long the minister of music at Greater South Baptist. For an entire year, a seat was open where DJ Johnny should be. On one Sunday, DJ Johnny was finally back.
“They’re saying now he’ll be able to walk again,” said Woodson, referring to the physical and speech therapies her father is working through. “We’re hoping to get him talking again.”
For a man who is mending and families everywhere dealing with the trauma of the past year, there are building blocks toward getting better. Encouragement. Therapy. Community.
A community that stands behind him.
Woodson says in showing her little girl symbols of strength, she can’t do better than a man who lives to bring joy.
“To see him rise against all the odds, I’m like, ‘Dad, you are so strong,’” said Woodson.