Updated, 5 p.m. ET, Friday, December 18: Wearing a shirt with “Write Your Own Story” scripted on it, Florida forward Keyontae Johnson posted a short video to Twitter at 5 p.m. Eastern on Friday, thanking medical professionals in Tallahassee and Gainesville for their care and fans for their support and prayer since his collapse.
“Write your own story” God said my work here ain’t done pic.twitter.com/hJHlBIJmdg— Keyontae (@Keyontae) December 18, 2020
Johnson being able to sit up and speak in a video were certainly not givens entering this week, as he began Monday in “critical and stable condition” at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.
His journey toward a recovery since then has been little short of stirring.
Johnson “continues to show truly encouraging signs of progress” during his stay at UF Health Shands Hospital while recovering from a sudden collapse in the Gators’ December 12 visit to Florida State, the program announced Thursday afternoon.
Florida also announced that its last three scheduled non-conference games in December would be postponed in light of Johnson’s ongoing ordeal, allowing players to go home and spend time with families over the holidays.
Stricklin told a local radio station on Wednesday that he had seen Johnson sitting up in a chair during a Tuesday visit, and that to his knowledge that Johnson was “having good conversations” and “laughing and smiling” as of Wednesday.
The entire hour-long interview, which covers topics well beyond Johnson, is available through ESPN Gainesville’s website. His discussion of Johnson’s condition begins at about the 57:00 mark of the audio player.
Stricklin mentions that he visited Johnson on Tuesday, seeing him “sitting up in a chair,” but that his understanding of improvement in his condition on Wednesday is a result of speaking to Johnson’s family. He also thanked Florida State and its leadership — specifically FSU President John Thrasher, whom he says visited Johnson at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital — for its help and care in the wake of Johnson’s collapse.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Johnson had been upgraded to stable condition and was “breathing on his own” and speaking with his parents at Gainesville’s UF Health Shands Hospital after his collapse during a game, according to a statement from his parents issued through Florida.
Per that statement, Johnson was even able to FaceTime with his teammates.
That was the most substantial — and positive — update on Johnson’s condition since Saturday, and a significant improvement in condition from Monday evening, when he remained in critical but stable condition, had been transported from Tallahassee to Gainesville “as planned” and was only “following simple commands” and undergoing further testing, according to a statement by Florida.
ShandsCair is UF Health’s critical care transport system, and its invocation in Florida’s statement likely means that Johnson was airlifted via helicopter from Tallahassee to Florida on Monday.
Johnson was in a medically-induced coma that doctors hoped to bring him out of late Monday afternoon, Johnson’s grandfather, Larry DeJarnett, previously told USA TODAY.
DeJarnett said in a phone interview that his grandson was transported to Gainesville, Florida on Monday after receiving his initial treatment in Tallahassee, where he collapsed early in Saturday’s game between the Gators and Florida State.
DeJarnett said doctors hoped to bring Johnson out of the coma Monday afternoon.
“They’re just not sure,” DeJarnett told USA TODAY Sports. ”He may have had activity in the brain, so they induced the coma. They put him on medication to keep him sedated.”
Johnson being transported back to Gainesville was not publicly known prior to the USA TODAY report.
The use of the phrase “following simple commands” could imply that Johnson was out of his coma — and, importantly, not in unresponsive wakefulness, the latest medical term for what was once called a vegetative state.
According to Headway, a British charity dealing with brain injuries, “follow(ing) simple commands” is something a post-coma patient in a minimally conscious state might be able to do; the Glasgow Coma Scale, used to assess post-coma consciousness, lists “obeys commands for movement” as its highest, best result for assessing motor response, though Florida’s statement makes no comment on whether Johnson is showing motor response.
Social media postings from figures involved in Johnson’s prep basketball career over the weekend indicated any updates would come directly from the family or Florida. Johnson’s sister posted on Instagram on Sunday that the family was largely dealing with unknowns.
The remarks from DeJarnett were the first from Johnson’s family or Florida since Sunday morning, when Johnson was reported to be in “critical but stable condition” at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital after collapsing to the floor early in the Gators’ game at Florida State on Saturday. The Sunday statement from Florida followed Saturday updates saying the same.
Per Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin’s quote in that Sunday statement, Johnson’s parents are “by his side.” Florida men’s basketball coach Mike White and head trainer Dave Werner were also in Tallahassee as of Sunday morning.
Shortly after throwing down an alley-oop to put Florida up 11-3 in the early goings of the game, Johnson collapsed while exiting the huddle at the end of the under-16 media timeout of the first half, hitting the floor face first and appearing to lay unconscious.
ESPNU, carrying the broadcast, did not show the incident live or on replay during the course of the broadcast. After the conclusion of the game, other ESPN networks have shown a short clip of Johnson’s fall, which is sudden and dramatic. A published photograph also shows Johnson’s eyes open and his face bloodied after the fall.
Alligator Army will not be publishing video or photography of the collapse, as they would be gratuitous and superfluous to descriptions of the incident.
Johnson was removed from the floor via stretcher and transported to Tallahassee Memorial.
The collapse left multiple Florida players in tears, with shots from the ESPNU television broadcast showing Noah Locke, Tre Mann, and Scottie Lewis visibly distraught. Play was halted for about 10 minutes as Johnson was treated and decisions on the game’s status were hashed out.
But the game ultimately continued, with multiple reports at the time suggesting that Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton offered Florida coach Mike White an opportunity to discontinue the game. After huddling with his players, it appeared that Florida collectively decided to play on.
Postgame comments from Hamilton, however, suggested that Hamilton and White did not speak to each other, with Hamilton instead speaking to Florida State administrators, who conveyed that the Gators wanted to play.
They did so with spirit for much of the next several minutes, and would lead by a game-high nine points with 9:07 remaining in the first half. But FSU — which hit threes on two consecutive possessions immediately after Johnson’s departure — seized control of the game down the stretch of the first half with a 17-0 run, and would lead by a 45-35 score at halftime before cruising to victory.
No update on Johnson’s condition beyond being hospitalized was available until halftime. White declined to speak to media postgame, citing a lack of any update on Johnson’s condition.
Postgame updates from Florida confirmed that White would remain in Tallahassee with Johnson while the rest of the Gators return to Gainesville on Saturday, and that Johnson would remain hospitalized overnight.