Sunday, July 20, 2014

Windham resident, Adam Johnston, first maine Maritime Academy graduate with disability - By Elizabeth Richard

Adam Johnston has faced his share of challenges, but never let them slow him down. 

When Johnston was two and a half he was run over by a lawnmower while playing in the yard at daycare. He was taken to Shriner’s Hospital for Children by helicopter, where they had to remove the lower part of his leg. Early on, he showed incredible strength, said his mother, Sue Johnston. Three months after the accident, he got a prosthetic leg, and was walking on it within 24 hours.

 The care Adam received at Shriner’s Hospital for Children was amazing, said Sue. They treated him with the upmost respect from the beginning. There he was, scared to death and sitting on the floor, and the doctor told everyone else to get down on the floor with him, bringing everything down to his level, said Sue. “They told me to treat him like any other kid,” she said. That advice turned out to be just what Adam needed. “We have never told him you can’t do something, and he has never asked for any special treatment,” she said.

Adam said he doesn’t remember a lot about the accident or the early surgeries, though he does remember having surgery the summer before his freshman year in high school. The end of his leg basically needed to be remodeled, he said, since his skin had stopped growing but the bone had not. He spent that very hot summer in a cast, and began high school on crutches due to the tenderness in his leg. But, he said, he didn’t make a big deal of it. This is an attitude he’s had all along, said Sue, recalling that he chose to have the surgery in the summer so he would be able to snowmobile in the winter.       
“I had no idea what I wanted to do,” said Adam of life after high school, until Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) in Castine caught his attention. He and his father visited the campus for an open house and tour, and he was hooked. “The ship was really what sold me,” he said. 

His first year of college was a difficult one, he said. There was a lot of strenuous physical activity at the beginning, and his prosthetic leg caused a lot of blisters and chafing, making walking difficult. 

Sue said that in those early days, she worried about him at school. “It was difficult for us,” she said. “It’s hard to let him go. I want to keep him safe,” she added. Though there were some bumps that first year, Adam came through them and thrived. “We are really proud of him,” Sue said. 

Adam acknowledged how important his family support system was for him when he began school. “I don’t think I would have made it through school without my parents,” he said. 

In the end, he did more than just make it. In his sophomore year, he had joined the school’s training program, working with incoming freshman as a mentor. He continued with this program in his junior year, and in his senior year he landed the Senior Mentor position, an officer position. This meant working hand in hand with the regiment operations officer, organizing and running the training operation. This position, he said, helped him understand himself a little better. “It really felt good to pass on what I learned,” he added. 

During his time at MMA, Adam switched from the type of prosthetic he’d always had to a different style. The newer technology alleviated some of the issues the previous prosthetic caused. Though he said the transition between styles was a little difficult, MMA made accommodations when necessary, giving him rides up and down the hill when walking was too hard. 

Most of the time, however, accommodations weren’t really something he needed. “I didn’t really struggle. I was the same as everyone else. It was just one more step. I had to put on my prosthetic,” he said, adding that it really only added 30 seconds to his routine.

After graduating, Adam took his final trip with the school, spending two months travelling to Italy, Iceland and Germany on the State of Maine. This week, he leaves for New York to do an internship with the company, where he will once again spend two months at sea.

“When I look back at what I’ve done, I’ve surprised myself sometimes. I didn’t think I’d be doing any of this. I’m glad this is where I’ve ended up,” he said.

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