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Published April 13, 2013, 11:30 PM

Event to benefit former South High teacher

Johanson diagnosed with ALS in 2011
FARGO – Students and staff of two high schools here have come together to honor one of their own.

By: Wendy Reuer, INFORUM

FARGO – Students and staff of two high schools here have come together to honor one of their own.

A benefit will be held today at Davies High School for Amy Johanson, a former math teacher at South High School who was diagnosed in 2011 with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Her husband, John Johanson, is a former social studies teacher at South High School, and now teaches at Davies.

John Johanson, 41, said the rare disease progresses differently in everyone. It attacks nerves that act as messengers from the brain to the muscles, eventually stopping the communication between the two and rendering muscles useless.

In Amy’s case, the disease progressed swiftly. One morning in the fall of 2011, the now 41-year-old was on her way to the car, heading to work, when she sprained her ankle. When the same ankle seemed to be sprained again and again, the couple soon learned it was more than a string of bad luck.

“She probably sprained it because the ankle [muscle] was weaker than it ought to have been,” John said.

ALS had begun its assault on Amy’s body. It moved from her ankle to the right leg, left leg and eventually to the majority of Amy’s body.

“She has not been able to move below her neck since last August. At the same time, she can feel everything because her nerve endings in terms of sensation are still there,” John said. “She is still completely 100 percent Amy; she’s just unable to move.”

Johanson now is on a ventilator, which helps her to move the muscles needed to breathe. She was looking forward to attending today’s benefit, but she was hospitalized with complications. The soonest she will be discharged is Monday, John Johanson said.

Today’s benefit organization was spearheaded by friend and fellow Davies teacher Sherry Warner Seefeld.

Warner Seefeld said it has been a collaborative effort by students and staff to not only raise money for the Johanson’s mounting medical bills, but to show what the couple has meant to the school communities.

“It’s staggering, it’s amazing,” John said. “We knew we had support, but you never really know how many people are there until …”

Along with today’s event, students and staff have made other efforts to help the Johansons. Last year, when the couple constructed a handicap accessible addition onto their 1914 home for Amy, friends and family swooped in, ready to help with whatever was needed.

Warner Seefeld said student council members made and sold “Team Johanson” T-shirts, with the proceeds going to John and Amy. Students also will be running an open badminton tournament during today’s event.

The Davies Foreign Language Department held a penny war and will be donating the proceeds today, as well as about 20 themed baskets to sell at the silent auction.

Hit Master Mobile Music will be entertaining at the event, as well as performances by Davies Choir, Band and Orchestra.

Every department at South and Davies, along with several from North High School, has donated food and silent auction items, Warner Seefeld said.

Warner Seefeld said John and Amy share a rare connection.

“It’s an admirable relationship,” she said.

John said he just wants to help Amy on her mission to continue living life the way she loves, getting out of the house and moving about at any opportunity.

The silent auction and benefit will be held today from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Davies High School.

Online donations are accepted at www.dakmed.org/lendahand.

If you go

What: Benefit for Amy Johanson by the staff of South and Davies high schools.

When: 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. today at Davies High School.

To donate: To make an online donation, log on to www.dakmed.org/lendahand, click on “Donate.” Cash/check gifts payable to the Amy Johanson Benefit Fund also are accepted at:

Bell State Bank & Trust

3100 13th Ave. S., PO Box 10877

Fargo, ND 58103. For additional information or to make a silent auction or food donation, contact Sherry Seefeld at (701) 793-3086 or tchrsher@gmail.com

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530