Allison Johnson Miller described her late son Keegan in a way that would make any parent smile.
“He was a good boy, but he was a 17-year-old teenager, too, so, you know,” she said, with a loving laugh. “I always tell people, he was not perfect. And he drove me crazy most days. But, oh my gosh I loved him, I loved him.
“He’s the oldest of my three boys and just a three-sport athlete, hilarious. He had the best smile and his smile was like my favorite thing. He could flash that smile to his teachers, us, and it would get him out of trouble.”
In February, 2020, Keegan Johnson iied from a brain infection brought on by a rare bacterium, breaking the hearts of his family.
He was 17.
But because he was a registered organ donor, five of his organs have saved the lives of four people.
The loss has been difficult.
“It’s hard,” Johnson Miller said Wednesday. “I was just telling somebody this morning that we are so fortunate that we were raised in a Christian home and just our faith and belief have gotten us as far as it has.
“And we have such a good relationship with We Are Sharing Hope South Carolina (the organ procurement organization in the state).”
Allison Johnson Miller said her son became an organ donor of his own accord. She said he was inspired after hearing of a young boy in their neighborhood who had a kidney transplant.
“It was just huge and it stuck with Keegan,” she said, noting it had an affect on his teammates on his high school football team as well.
Next was a trip to the local Department of Motor Vehicles in Spartanburg, S.C., to indicate his wishes on his drivers’ license.
“When we went to the DMV, Keegan just kind of looked at me and I told him, ‘This is your choice, it’s totally up to you,’” Allison Johnson Miller said. “And his words were, ‘Well, what do I need them for when I’m gone?’
“And he’s right. If you can help somebody and give somebody their family back, then why not.”
He checked the box. Four months later to the day, he was gone.
But his legacy endures. Besides the lives his organs saved, he inspired family members to become organ donors.
Johnson Miller has been working with a couple of people from We Are Sharing Hope SC, including Victoria Dhindsa. They have all grown close through the experience.
“Victoria, she’s our person and we just adopted her into our family,” said Johnson Miller, whose family created the Keegan Johnson Memorial Scholarship Fund.
The feeling is more than mutual as Dhindsa has marveled at the strength of a family that has suffered the worst kind of grief. Dhindsa said that after Keegan Johnson passed, she connected with Allison Johnson Miller.
“She was like, ‘What can I do?’” Dhindsa said. “Two months later, she has her entire family behind her and they’re sharing his story and inspiring not just their community, but the state. And now going national all the way to California, it just shows the true power of what it means to inspire someone and what it means to be a hero.”
She couldn’t praise Keegan Johnson enough.
“And Keegan is just such a beautiful representation of that,” Dhindsa said. “You can see it across his friends and family and people that maybe never knew him but feel so connected to just his dedication to helping other people and to leaving this place better than where he found it.”
Dhindsa recalled the moment everyone realized a trip to the Rose Parade was going to happen.
“There is no other word except for just being in complete awe when you’re surrounded by them, every single one of them,” she said, of the family members. “His brothers, his parents, his aunt, uncles, cousins. When we called them and said, ‘We’re going to California,’ they said, ‘Oh, yeah, we are all going to California.’”
Dhindsa added: “They were ready, making plans and we had family conference calls, whatever we needed to do to get every person out here to see Keegan go across the Donate Life Rose Parade float and everybody here in Pasadena and on national TV get to see his smile.”
Keegan Johnson played baseball, basketball and football.
“Oh, man, sports was something he loved very much,” said his father, Joey Miller. “He wanted to play sports and there was not one sport he couldn’t do. He loved it.”
He described his son as energetic, and a positive influence on everyone he encountered.
“He always wanted to be on the go,” Miller said. “He made people smile and encouraged other people to be the best, you know?”
When Joey Miller was asked to talk about his son becoming an organ donor, it seemed like that gave him an enormous amount of satisfaction.
“A lot of pride,” he said. “It’s something that Keegan, he wanted to be a hero. Whether it was playing sports, anything, he just wanted to be the center of attention. That was him. To be an organ donor and save lives, I mean, that’s … wow.”
His voice trailed off.
“Being a 17-year-old, you never thought he would say something like being an organ donor,” Miller said. “Not too many 17-year-olds will say stuff like that, or change lives to save lives. That’s all he wanted to do. That was him.”
He was asked what he misses most about Keegan.
“Oh, man,” Miller said, “his voice.”
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