On Thursday, March 2, 2017, the world lost a beacon of hope and perseverance when my friend and client Dwight Johnson passed away. Dwightâ€™s life and story are amazing, and are ones I feel obligated to share. Dwight, a hard-working father of 7, made his living inspecting skyscrapers, and worked on some of the most recognized buildings in the world. Our paths first crossed when Dwight came to me following the amputation of his leg after an injury at work. But this amputation was not the first for Dwight, who had, years before, developed an infection while working overseas, which caused his first amputation.
Despite losing both of his legs, nothing and no one could stop Dwight. Our paths crossed because Dwightâ€™s workerâ€™s compensation insurance carrier was delaying his medical treatmentâ€”including vital medications and modifications to his apartment that would allow for him to safely shower. When his primary care physician recommended that grab bars be installed for shower safety, the insurance adjuster refused to authorize the modification and submitted it to Utilization Review. The UR physician then parroted the insurerâ€™s desired outcomeâ€”denying the request, increasing the insurerâ€™s profits, and leaving Dwight literally out in the cold. He had to go to the apartment complexâ€™s outdoor pool area to safely shower. Despite this setback, Dwight was not deterred and we continued to fight for his right to receive proper treatment.
Unfortunately, the California State Senate under SB 863 and SB 899 had dramatically reformed the workerâ€™s compensation system to the detriment of working Californians across the state. Under this system, and even as his lawyer, I could not simply file for a hearing and let a judge decide if a double amputee was entitled to a grab bar in the shower. Instead, our only remedy was to appeal the UR doctorâ€™s decision to an â€œindependentâ€ medical review. But that â€œindependentâ€ reviewer, based on the new process, would remain anonymous, would not see, speak to, or examine Dwight, and even as his lawyer, I was stripped of the right to examine the doctorâ€™s credentials or cross examine him/her on the issue.
While that â€œindependentâ€ review occurred, Dwight and I decided to contact CBS to make this egregious issue public. Amazingly, the power of bad publicity has an incredible way to create change. Sure enough, shortly before the piece aired, the insurance company decided it was time to settle Dwight’s claim and provide him with the care he deserved.
The settlement provided Dwight and his family with more than grab bars and allowed them to move closer to his children. But Dwightâ€™s incredible story didnâ€™t end there. Despite a demanding recovery, having to relearn how to walkâ€”twiceâ€”and all the attendant issues with his double prosthesis, Dwight decided to be a force of positivity in the world. Dwight started a shoe company and would customize shoes to distract people from staring at his prosthetic legs. He then would donate the specially designed shoes to other amputees and war veterans. He and his wife Debbie also worked with Amputee Empowerment Partners to assist other amputees. His selflessness, even in the face of tragedy, was something to which we should all aspire.
Dwight, your love of life and will to persevere were a gift. I thank you, and I will never forget you. Our heartfelt condolences go out to Dwightâ€™s wife and children, and we thank them for sharing so much of Dwightâ€™s heart, spirit, and light with the world.