Christmas 1974 was shaping up to be a stressful one for the Wayne Johnson family of Pendleton.
In November of that year, the Johnsons’ youngest son, 12-year-old Randy, came down with what they thought was the flu. He had all the symptoms, and he had been exposed to the virus. But when he didn’t get better, Randy’s parents took him to the doctor — and a six-week medical saga began.
Doctors found Randy’s appendix had burst, and rushed him to emergency surgery. Randy then developed peritonitis, which spread throughout his system. A heart problem developed, and then stress ulcers. Blood transfusions and two more surgeries were followed by internal bleeding and a fourth surgery. Then Randy developed pneumonia.
During his hospital stay, letters, cards and gifts flooded Randy's room. Many of his classmates wrote letters, and he also received mail from unusual sources. His great-uncle in Xenia, Ohio, discovered Randy’s plight and found a seventh-grade class in his town that created a get well card for Randy. He also received get-well wishes from Sen. Robert Packwood and Vic Atiyeh.
Randy’s family was also on the receiving end of a mountain of support. The Girls’ League from Pendleton High School decorated Randy’s hospital room, and the family was continually gifted with meals and Christmas goodies from friends, neighbors, church members and Mrs. Johnson’s sorority sisters. Friends helped look after twins Rodger and Robbin, 14, and little sister Nicole, 4.
But for Randy, the best gift was from a family he didn’t even know. During his hospital stay, the only window in his room framed the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree in the house across the street.
After a six-week stay, on Christmas Eve, Randy was able to walk down the hall in the hospital on the arm of a nurse, toting his IV rack along beside him. He was moved into a two-bed hospital room just in time to open Christmas gifts with his grateful family.