How Donor Dollars Saved a Rock Star: “I never imagined it would be used on me.”

Kawitta Johnson & Dr. Humphreys
J. Ryan Humphreys, M.D. and Kawitta Johnson

For more than a year J. Ryan Humphreys, M.D. campaigned for an Ascension St. Vincent’s East Emergency Department ultrasound machine. “It was kind of my baby,” he says. “I thought this would be a very valuable piece of equipment. So, the Foundation got it for us, and it was fantastic.”

Humphreys was so proud of the machine that he showed it to Ascension St. Vincent’s East Cardiovascular Sonographer Kawitta Johnson. “Kawitta is one of my top five people I like to work with. She is very savvy technically, but also someone who’s always smiling. She’s a marathon runner and just a rock star of a human being.”

Johnson was suitably impressed with how Humphreys planned to use the ultrasound. “I knew how he had pushed for it, and how excited he was to use it. Since ultrasound is what I do every day, I’ve read about using ultrasound in emergency situations.” And as a longtime Foundation donor and member of the 1898 Society (members give $1,000 or more annually), Johnson had long seen the Foundation meet critical needs.

Those needs became personal October 21, 2019, when Johnson used her day off to run an errand. By that time Humphreys was so busy that he was surprised when his charge nurse interrupted him, saying he was needed more urgently elsewhere. Then she warned him he knew the patient.

“I got in the room, saw a patient who had blood pressure of 60/20 and got this gut feeling she was going to die,” he remembers. “Then I looked at her face and just stiffened. It was Kawitta. Meanwhile, five seasoned nurses – including a flight nurse – couldn’t get an IV started. We brought in that ultrasound and established the IV within seconds. The fluids brought her blood pressure up. Then I switched to a different ultrasound modality and looked at her heart.”

What Humphreys saw was indicative of pulmonary embolism. Within 45 minutes Kawitta received clot-busting drugs. “If I hadn’t had that machine there was no way I could have known what was wrong. The Foundation-provided ultrasound allowed me to save her life. To me, that piece of equipment was worth its weight in gold that day. That’s why I give to the Foundation.”

Johnson doesn’t remember entering the hospital, but does remember walking out five days later. Within three months she ran a half-marathon. She credits God, Humphreys, her Ascension St. Vincent’s East colleagues, and Foundation donors for her miraculous outcome.

“God works in funny ways. If I had stayed home alone, I would have died,” she says. “I’m just thankful Dr. Humphreys did what he did to get that equipment. Otherwise he couldn’t have made that diagnosis. I’m thankful he was there that day. I’m thankful for anyone who has donated money. I never imagined it would be used on me.”

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