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Oprah gives local survivor an outlet

Alison MillerVail, CO Colorado
Preston Utley/Vail DailyFriends gather at Laurie Johnson's home in Edwards to watch her recent appearance on the Oprah Whinfrey Show. Johnson lost her son and husband in a small plane crash a few years ago.
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EDWARDS – When Laurie Johnson flew to Chicago to tape a show with Oprah Winfrey about overcoming tragedy, it may have been the truest testament to how far she has come since a plane crash took the lives of her son and husband. On Aug. 1, 2002, Johnson left Eagle County Airport with her husband, Clyde, and their 2-year-old son, Macallan. The small plane failed to gain altitude and crashed into the Flat Tops mountains just after take-off. Macallan was killed in the crash, and Clyde died in the hospital three weeks later. Johnson, who was hospitalized for a broken leg and burns, said she never had the chance to grieve the loss of her son with Clyde before he also was taken from her.Johnson is able to talk about the crash and the deaths of her loved ones with ease and confidence, but it wasn’t always that way.”I had the whole range of emotions including guilt, depression, anger and suicidal thoughts,” Johnson said. “I felt at that point that life was not worth living. I felt so alone, so isolated, and like nobody understood what I was going through.”Her loss was different because she did not have her husband to help her through the death of her child, and she did not have her child to focus her love on while mourning the loss of her husband, Johnson said. It could have been too much for anyone to take, but Johnson said she made a decision to survive and not give in to her grief. Two years on crutches with a severely broken leg led to the creation of a line of designer crutches. Half of the profits of Johnson’s LemonAid Crutches support Step With Hope, a nonprofit charity that offers financial assistance, counseling and community support for people who have experienced profound loss.After reading about Johnson’s story in People Magazine last year, Oprah’s producers contacted Johnson about sharing her story on their show.”Oprah was taping a show about people overcoming tragedy, and I was invited to tell my story,” Johnson said. “It was hard at first to start flying again, and I had to make myself go up in a plane once a year since the accident, but I don’t want to live in fear or with insurmountable grief.”It was one of the most exciting things Johnson said she has ever done, and it was an almost therapeutic experience for her.A week before going to Chicago for the taping, a crew came to videotape Johnson at her home in Edwards. She described what happened the day of the crash, and talked about forgiveness and her dreams for the future. The first time she saw herself on video describing her pain and how much joy she has now brought Johnson to tears, and made her realize more than ever what she wants for the future, she said.”After the crash, I wouldn’t even plan the next day, let alone the months and years to come,” Johnson said. “Now I have hopes and dreams for myself and my foundation, to grow us both. I am able to take comfort in the knowledge Clyde and Macallan would want me to have a full and rich life.”Forgiveness is a gift I give myself,” Johnson said. “I forgive the pilot, I forgive myself for living and, though I was angry at God for a long time, I forgive him too.”Staff writer Alison Miller can be reached at 748-2928 or armiller@vaildaily.com.


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