Stafon Johnson can talk again.
Just 47 days after crushing his throat in a tragic weightlifting accident, Johnson is certifiably on the road to recovery and can now speak — albeit limitedly.
He did so in a meeting with the press prior to USC’s game against Stanford on Saturday.
“God has a plan,” Johnson whispered, reciting the last words he heard from his late grandfather. “Run, Stafon. Run.”
Only seven words, yes, but seven meaningful words.
Johnson was very close with his grandfather, Larry Mallory, who died of a heart attack in the spring of 2007.
“Just the whisper was like he was giving an interview,” said Kim Mallory, Johnson’s mother. “That was a big thing, because it wasn’t expected to hear any type of sound for a while. [It was] overwhelming.”
Dr. Ryan F. Osborne and Dr. Jason S. Hamilton of the Osborne Head & Neck Institute accompanied Johnson at the press conference, held in the Coliseum press box an hour prior to kickoff against the Stanford Cardinal.
They said Johnson had in many ways beat the odds expected of him. At the time of the injury, doctors said he was lucky to have survived. Now, they credit his “gladiator-type attitude” for the speedy recovery.
“I think anyone looking at him today or who heard his story would say that this is miraculous,” Osborne said. “We wouldn’t expect him to be at this state this early … but he’s an athlete, he’s determined, he’s never believed that he was the underdog — and so far you can see the results.”
Johnson no longer needs a breathing or feeding tube and can eat solid food, but doctors emphasized that the journey is not complete, yet.
He can still only whisper a few words at a time.
“At this point in time, he does have some minor limitations,” Osborne said. “Just because we don’t want him speaking, don’t want him to do anything to strain his neck area at this point in time.”
Osborne added that those limitations would be removed in the “very near future.”
Mallory said Johnson has at times slipped up and uttered a few words, but she said her primary mode of communication with her son was through his laptop computer, which he uses to write notes to her.
Johnson shrugged when asked if he planned to play football for USC next season, but he still seemed upbeat throughout the 20-minute conference — at least until the last question, when a reporter asked about Stafon Jr., his 15-month-old son.
Johnson put his head down and appeared to be in distress. His mother understood, saying only that it was “hard,” but adding, again, “God has a plan.”