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Seeing a need, filling a need

Oct 4, 2011
by Caroline Young, '11

Son’s injury leads alumnus to launch camp for child amputees

The Johnston family’s painful and transformative journey in 2008 began on the soccer field when Brennan Johnston fell and fractured his left femur.

The 4-year-old son of Flagler alumnus Brian Johnston spent more than two weeks in the hospital where he underwent five surgeries, three blood transfusions and several other treatments in a grueling and agonizing experience for the entire family. Yet, after all of that, doctors were still forced to amputate the boy’s leg.

Little did they know, the loss of Brennan’s leg would soon turn in to the birth of a new endeavor — one to help the Johnstons heal and to help other families do the same.

It started when Brennan was being fitted for his prosthetic leg and his therapist told him about a camp for amputees. Brennan lit up with excitement and told his dad he must go.

“I said, ‘Sure, absolutely tear it up,’ but then the therapist told us we have to wait three years because he has to be 8 to go … Brennan just sat there, deflating,” Johnston said. “I asked, ‘What do you do for younger kids?’ and their response was, ‘We tried it once and it really didn’t work … So bummer.’ ”

But Johnston, who lives in Atlanta, where he founded EVOLUTIONS total wellness center, used this obstacle as a way to transform their struggles into something worthwhile. Johnston’s idea for AMPUCAMP was ignited.

On the way home from the therapist, Johnston thought of something a character said from “Robots,” Brennan’s favorite movie.

“I asked him if he remembered that Bigweld said, ‘See a need, Fill a need,’ ” Johnston recalled. “I don’t care if you’re 2 or 102, we’ll make our own camp, and everyone can come.”

AMPUCAMP’s first event was held in in Atlanta in August 2009. The initial plan was to host four events throughout the year to bring amputees and their loved ones together. The day usually consists of a cookout, sporting events and professional counseling. Johnston said the events are mentor-mentee situations with amputees ranging from 5 to 68 years old.

AMPUCAMP enables amputees to reignite their passion for life and for all of the activities they loved to do before the procedure. Johnston said it helps people to face and relieve themselves of frustration and let go of questions like, “Why me?” or “Why would God let this happen?”

“Hopefully through the environment we provide, people will have the opportunity to explore those feelings,” he said. “You get people pulled back in, they re-engage and they continue to improve and progress from that point forward.”

And now Johnston’s dream is to expand outside of the Atlanta area.

“The goal is to AMPUCAMP the globe — basically to create an opportunity in a box, to duplicate the systems in the program,” he said.
The events also help parents, including Johnston, to establish a sense of peace about their child.

“It gives us chance to cut the umbilical cord from the parent,” Johnston said. “It was a lot tougher for me to let it go… my son was like, ‘I just want to run; I just want to play. Stop asking me about my leg.’ ”

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