CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Friends and community members will gather Sunday at a Plaza Midwood bar in support of a local LGBT community volunteer and artist following her traumatic brain injury several months ago.
TJ Johnson, 41, suffered a basilar skull fracture in April this year, as she and a friend were visiting a local storage unit where Johnson was retrieving an un-used bed for a friend.
“I have no memory of it, but from what I was told, I got excited — my friend and I, we can be really silly together — and I jumped onto the back of the pickup truck’s bumper and she hit the gas and when that happened, I went flying off the truck,” says Johnson.
The injury was quite severe. Blood was seeping from Johnson’s nose and ear. She was treated at Carolinas Medical Center and placed in the intensive care unit. Johnson’s doctors told her the majority of those with similar injuries don’t make it through.
“I feel extremely lucky,” says Johnson. “Doctors and nurses and everyone at the hospital, they all say, ‘Do you realize how lucky you are?'”
The injury resulted in a loss of Johnson’s taste and smell, as well as the hearing in one of her ears. The recovery is expected to take at least six months to a year.
All of those expenses will add up. Johnson had no health insurance. And, because Republican state legislators refused to raise Medicaid eligibility requirements, Johnson was unable to take advantage of government assistance.
Johnson and her wife, Brooklyn, are both artists, but Johnson can’t work.
“I can’t sit for very long. I can’t stand for very long,” Johnson says. “If I overstimulate my brain, it could do more damage.”
She and her wife have been selling some of their artwork to raise funds, and they’ve relied on friends for help.
“We’ve had to rely a lot on family, friends and the kindness of strangers,” she says. “I’m a very independent person and used to working a lot and taking care of my own needs. It’s really taught us it’s okay to ask for help.”
And, help Johnson and her wife will get. A benefit is slated for Sunday, Sept. 7, 7-10p.m. at Petra’s, 1919 Commonwealth Ave. Admission is $15. Several artists, including Johnson and her wife, have donated pieces for an auction. The event will feature live music, comedy and a raffle.
A GoFundMe account has also been set up. As of Thursday, it had raised a little over $2,000.
All of the funds will be used in paying for Johnson’s healthcare needs.
Johnson is being supported by a variety of community members, including staffers at Time Out Youth. Johnson and her wife have often volunteered at the LGBT youth services agency, helping young people with art education projects. Several pieces decorate the group’s offices and youth center.
“She’s done a lot of art education and helping promote the youth’s own artistic abilities, encouraging them to try their own things in art,” says O’Neale Atkinson, Time Out Youth’s director of youth services.
Last month, Johnson and her wife helped the youth cook a Friday meal and assisted in finishing posters the youth would use during the Charlotte Pride Parade.
“It was super cool and a really great meal and they helped the youth finish some of their Pride posters,” says Atkinson. “Them just being in the space and being a cool support system and sharing her experiences and stories not only as an LGBT person, but also what she’s been going through since her traumatic brain injury — that’s really been awesome for youth just to hear.”