On the afternoon before Thanksgiving, 17-year-old Canton resident Mionna Johnson sat at her family’s dining room table and talked eloquently about her faith (strong as steel), her future (bright as the sun) and how she managed to shatter the predictions (dire) of doctors who were certain she would live a life severely limited by the physical carnage created by the rupture of an undetected arteriovenous malformation (AVM) near her brain stem Sept. 19, 2020.
Declared brain dead just hours after suffering the aneurysm-like injury as a 14-year-old, the resilient and quick-to-smile high school junior, who is piling up honor roll-caliber grades, is a walking and talking inspiration to those who know her story – and an odds-defying warrior in the eyes of the medical professionals who treat her.
“The doctors are amazed because the likelihood of someone surviving something like Mionna’s injury – let alone returning to near normal – is very rare,” said Tiffany Bernard, Mionna’s mom. “Every appointment, they can’t believe what they’re seeing.”
An AVM is an abnormal tangle of blood vessels connecting arteries and veins, according to mayoclinic.org. When an AVM ruptures, like in Johnson’s case, it often causes bleeding in the brain, a stroke or brain damage.
The left side of Johnson’s body was paralyzed by the injury – a speed bump, it turns out for the determined teen, whose spirit has been undaunted by the adversity.
“It seems like everything is lining up like it was supposed to,” said Johnson, whose left vocal cord remains paralyzed, forcing her to speak slower than usual, but crystal clear. “People’s faith in God has grown because of how well my recovery is going. People who know my story know there is something bigger than us, which gives them hope.”
Following a 117-day hospital stay at Detroit’s Children’s Hospital and several grueling months of rehabilitation at home and in local rehab centers, Johnson started making significant strides in the summer of 2021, thanks largely to the tough love her parents displayed.
“We’ve definitely pushed her,” said Bernard, “but in a good way. For instance, when she came home from Children’s they told us to set the house up like a hospital. There was a portable bathroom in her bedroom, but after a while, we took it out. At first, she was like, ‘But how am I going to manage this?’ And we told her you’re going to have to push yourself up with your arms on the counter and get yourself to the bathroom.
“We had to challenge her, but I think that’s one reason why she’s come as far as she has.”
Hide and walk
Another encouraging milestone was achieved the day Mionna’s walker was hidden, forcing her to walk on her own – another tough-love challenge that has led to her fluid mobility these days.
When asked what re-mastered skill she is most proud of, Johnson said her ability to eat and drink normally again.
“For a long time, I could only drink liquids; all my food had to be put in a blender,” she said. “Finally, I got to the point where I could eat solid foods and drink whatever I wanted.”
Her first solid meal after months on a liquid diet?
“We went to Taco Bell,” she said, beaming.
Bernard’s unwavering faith through her daughter’s journey has given hope to other families traversing similar rocky roads.
“I was introduced to a mother whose daughter suffered an aneurysm the same day as Mionna’s injury,” Bernard said. “I told her everything is going to be OK if you have faith and pray.
“Her daughter is actually doing really well now, just like Mionna, and when I talked to her recently, she said, ‘It turned out just like you said it would.”
Mionna is currently a junior at Southfield Christian – she was able to catch up from the year she lost to the injury by attending summer school this past summer – where she is earning stellar grades.
“I love Southfield Christian because you can talk about your faith and no one is judgmental,” she said. “Everyone is treated the same there. I’ve met a lot of new friends and the teachers have been very supportive.”
One of Mionna’s passions is music. She is a talented guitarist and often wears headphones so she can listen to music performed by her favorite artists.
If her life was tagged with an official theme song, a Motown-produced anthem may be most appropriate.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.