Although the physical pain is his, Casey Johansen’s persistent positive glow is healing his family’s spirit and invigorating his doctors and therapists.
Johansen , 28, spent seven hours pinned under tons of debris on Aug. 8 during demolition at the Phoenix Civic Center. The construction worker was attempting to weaken the structure with a front-end loader when the roof fell.
Johansen endured more than 10 operations over the course of a month, including the amputation of both legs at midthigh.
“Whatever genes you have, we’re going to clone them,” Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said to Johansen Thursday at a news conference. “Your strength has given us hope.”
Firefighters at the scene were the first to be impressed by Johansen’s good humor in the midst of such pain.
Johansen’s father, Layne, who also worked at the site, was the first to reach his son after the structure fell. “He was keeping our spirits up” during the rescue, recalled Layne.
“I honestly didn’t know whether he was going to make it,” said trauma surgeon Dr. Corey Detlefs, who began his work with Johansen at the scene. “Casey’s got a survivor mentality,” Detlefs said.
The surgeon added that Johansen’s positive outlook — with family support, successful surgery and therapy and the support of hospital staff — has speeded Johansen’s recovery.
Detlefs said his greatest fear for Johansen came when the extreme pressure of the debris was lifted from his body. When blood flow returned to his extremities, shock caused the body to release toxins that could have killed him.
Physical therapist Bob Heisler said they will now work on strengthening exercises and wheelchair mobility before Johansen can be fitted for prosthetics. He said Johansen is doing well. “He could be back in his own bed in a few weeks,” Heisler said.
Prosthetics specialist Joe Pongratz said that although Johansen suffered extensive soft tissue damage to his legs, his closures are “beautiful.” While Johansen builds the muscle he’ll need to manipulate prosthetics, they’ll begin shaping his limbs for successful prosthetic fittings.
Johansen’s dedication to his work has not been shaken. “I fully intend to go back to work. I still love what I do,” Johansen said, acknowledging that he may do more office and managerial work in the future. He is part owner of his family’s Gilbert-based demolition company, BCS Enterprises.
Johansen’s wife Bethany, 25, supports his decision. “You don’t stop Casey from doing what he loves,” she said.