USC running back Stafon Johnson was released from the hospital Wednesday, just 16 days after undergoing throat surgery after a weightlifting accident.
The senior walked to the press conference at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and flashed a smile and a thumbs up to a waiting throng of reporters.
Johnson still requires a breathing tube and cannot speak or swallow, but his doctors were upbeat about his recovery because of how far the senior has already come since the Sept. 28 incident.
“He has made extremely remarkable progress at this preliminary stage,” said Dr. Ryan F. Osborne, one of the surgeons who operated on Johnson. “We’re happy with his progress and we’re very optimistic for his long-term prognosis.”
Johnson nodded along to the words of his doctors and his mother, Kim Mallory, before his uncle Kregg Anderson read a statement that Johnson typed on his laptop prior to the press conference.
“This is not the end of anything, but the beginning of things to come,” Johnson’s statement read. “I will be back soon.”
Doctors had no set target date for when they will ask Johnson to attempt to speak again. They also had no timetable for a return to football, though Johnson nodded and smiled when the notion of playing again was discussed.
Johnson will return home to rest and begin the rehabilitation process. He will be monitored “on an outpatient basis,” Osborne said, and will be evaluated later in the week.
The day was emotional for Mallory, who stayed by her son’s side throughout his recovery. She thanked fans and friends for their outpouring of support through cards and texts, and also the surgeons who worked with Johnson.
“God couldn’t have put together a better team of doctors for us,” Mallory said.
The weightlifting injury could have been life-threatening to many other patients who lacked Johnson’s spirit and health, Dr. Jason S. Hamilton said.
“His physical stature and his will to survive allowed him to make it to the hospital,” Hamilton said. “When I first evaluated him, I was surprised he even made it to the hospital at all. That’s a testament to him fighting from the beginning.”
Johnson has remained in his teammates’ thoughts during his absence. Starting on Saturday against Notre Dame, USC will wear helmet stickers that read “Sta Fight On 13,” a play on words thought up by USC coach Pete Carroll.
Separating himself from the team has proven difficult for Johnson, even during his recovery. The Compton native watched USC’s 30-3 win against Cal from his hospital bed and couldn’t help but get excited.
“He was pushing in bed like he’s Allen Bradford trying to get a touchdown,” Mallory said. “The whole time, it was like he was in the game, but from afar.”
Johnson drew support from throughout the community and even rival UCLA fans after the incident, and continues to gain supporters.
“I wasn’t a football fan before, but I am now,” Osborne said. “You can’t help it. Stafon is just infectious.”
Before heading home, Johnson scribbled a final note for Mallory to read to the audience. She said it read, “Fight on. Beat the Irish.”