Living his life 'To the fullest': Paralyzed Saratoga man shares story after wreck 14 years ago


Courtesy photo

In this March photo, Yvonne Johnson poses with her son Brandon. BRandon was in a severe car wreck 14 years ago near Saratoga that left him paralyzed from the chest down. Brandon now lives in Florida telling his story to youth.

After a car wreck left him paralyzed from the chest down, simple tasks like inserting a DVD into a laptop disk drive became tedious.

But even with limited use of his arms and fingers, Brandon Johnson, who survived a car wreck 14 years ago, was able to achieve the task.

“It took me about 45 minutes and about 30 tries, but I got it in the side of my laptop,” Brandon said.

After 14 years, Brandon does not remember anything from the crash, he said, and is living with the consequences of his poor choices for the rest of his life.

Brandon has had 14 surgeries, died three or four times and continues to struggle with breathing and life.

But from the moment Brandon opened his eyes after the accident, he never thought negatively of his situation, and decided to do something with his life.

“As soon as I opened my eyes and saw (my sister and brother) and saw the doctors, I looked around the room and saw all the get well soon (cards). That’s when I told myself I am going to do something with my life, instead of get me down,” Brandon said.

Spreading word

Brandon, who experienced the wreck when he was 17, is now 30 years old and lives in Orlando, Fla. Brandon said he moved from Saratoga to Orlando several years ago because the services and opportunities were better and he had trouble with Wyoming winters.

“I just couldn’t handle the winters in Saratoga anymore after the accident,” he said.

Brandon said he spends a lot of time telling his story in hopes of keeping others from repeating his same mistakes – drinking and driving, and not wearing a seat belt.

Brandon mostly speaks to youth from Orange County Juvenile Justice Center, a center close to his home. Brandon also does some volunteer work for a program called “Juveniles Against Destructive Decisions.” Brandon said he wants to share his story with youth in high schools, but has often been met with discouragement because he is not part of a program, he said.

Brandon said he tries to expand his reach often to narrow the number of teenagers who would make the same poor choices he did.

Brandon also tells his story on the internet with his website,, which includes an 11-minute video about Brandon’s accident, car wreck statistics, testimonials and more.

Brandon said he is trying to get into other juvenile justice centers.

“I live to the fullest and share my story when I can,” he said.

Brandon’s story

July 17, 1999, when Brandon was 17, he left a party after a night of drinking. At about 1 a.m., Brandon fell asleep while driving a vehicle on Highway 130/230, about two miles outside of Saratoga. When Brandon woke up, he overcorrected and rolled the car three times.

Brandon, who was not wearing his seat belt, was ejected from the car through the driver’s side window. According to the Wyoming Highway Patrol, he landed on his head and the car rolled over him.

The wreck left Brandon with a ruptured spleen, punctured lungs, three broken ribs, a broken neck, and broken left shoulder and was on a ventilator for six months, according to his website. After initial emergency treatment, Brandon had a 5 percent chance of living. Even so low, Brandon survived, but will live the rest of his life paralyzed, with limited use of his arms and almost no use of his fingers.

“His will to live is incredible,” said Brandon’s mother Yvonne Johnson. “It’s mind blowing how many times this guy has died, what he has gone through.”

Everyday challenges

Although Brandon keeps an up-beat attitude, Brandon faces challenges every day because of his condition.

Brandon lives in a duplex with his friend/care giver Ron.

“I would be in a nursing home if it wasn’t for him,” Brandon said.

Ron helps Brandon out with some activities, but Brandon still struggles.

Brandon has been on bed rest for the past couple years because of severe bed sores, some of which required stitches, he said.

Brandon said his skin has been healed for about three weeks, but is afraid it will rip again if he tries to move without special equipment, like a special padded seat for his wheel chair.

Yvonne said Brandon still sometimes struggles with breathing and will sometimes have seizures.

“He is becoming more chronic and it’s really hard to deal with when I’m here and he’s there,” Yvonne said.

Coming or going

Yvonne has lived and worked in Carbon County for many years. She said she was happy working for the Rawlins-Carbon County Chamber of Commerce and the Saratoga Museum, but is giving it up to be closer to Brandon.

“I’ve accomplished personally almost everything I can possibly do in my community and county,” she said.

Last year, Yvonne became the executive director of the Rawlins-Carbon County Chamber of Commerce to help it grow.

“I felt like my mission would not be fulfilled, like it wasn’t my time. I needed to do one more thing and it was to take the Chamber job and to help bring it back,” she said.

While director, Yvonne set a goal to bring in 100 new members in six months. Yvonne said she achieved that goal. Yvonne left the Chamber in February and succeeded in getting a total of 164 new members within a 14 month period, she said.

Yvonne said Brandon had a close call in February. Yvonne made an emergency visit to see him. Yvonne said that’s when she decided to leave Saratoga to be closer to Brandon.

Never forgotten

Before Yvonne can leave Saratoga, she has to sell her house, a task that has proven to be difficult.

Yvonne said she found a buyer and plans to close Sept. 23, if everything goes according to plan.

Yvonne said she plans to donate some of the proceeds to the Saratoga community because of their charity after Brandon’s accident.

“I don’t know how much I am going to be able to give, but at this point, I don’t think it is about the money,” Yvonne said. “It is about the community and the county that have not forgotten what they did for us and the efforts that were made to allow Brandon to come home.”

After Brandon’s accident, he had to live in the nursing home, but the Saratoga community donated money to make Yvonne’s home ADA accessible, so that Brandon could return.

Yvonne said she is thankful to the Saratoga community for their contribution.

Brandon said he is also thankful to the Saratoga community, and credits Saratoga for his will to live and share his story.


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