Daniel J Vance

An argument could be made that the life of 82-year-old Gail Johnson has been a miracle from beginning to end.

In a telephone interview, her daughter Gail Lipe said, “My mom was born in 1932 as a preemie twin weighing only one pound nine ounces. The doctor was so sure the mother and two children would die that (the family) purchased three grave plots. My mother’s brother died first, then my grandmother, and when the doctor told the nurse to call the morgue (for my mother), the nurse refused and resuscitated this tiny body that was the length of a table knife.”

Johnson’s survival was made all the more miraculous given her birth occurred in a rural, ten-bed hospital, in Norwich, Kansas, involving a poor, farm family during the Great Depression. It would take doctors four years to diagnose Johnson with cerebral palsy. She required speech therapy in school because at first her speech wasn’t understandable. Early on, she scooted on her rear to get around the house. Many surgeries somehow enabled her to walk.

In the 1930s and ’40s, a feeble body often was equated with having a feeble mind. One relative said Johnson should be placed in an institution so “the family could get on with their lives,” said Lipe. Which made it all the more miraculous when Johnson was mainstreamed from third grade through high school.

One day, by chance, Johnson’s grandfather was in a barbershop and overheard two men talking about a new University of Wichita speech and occupational therapy program that helped children like Johnson. She eventually became one of the first twelve children selected.

Johnson eventually entered Friendship University in Wichita to become an interior designer, but quit after marrying. She went on to have three children, including one adopted child.

Said Lipe, “She worked with the (University of Wichita) program to help raise money and was in the movie (about the program) that was shown to President Roosevelt. When I was growing up, she spoke to any type of group about cerebral palsy. She worked with United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) in her state, produced the state version one year of the national UCP telethon, was the UCP delegate on the Gillette Children’s Hospital board, and helped groups of parents there who had children with disabilities.”

Lipe has a book out about her mother’s experiences, called No Time to Quit.

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