One officer's struggle to recover from wounds seen and unseen

Updated: Feb. 3, 2018 at 12:08 AM EST
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Johnson recovered, but there were wounds he couldn't see that would haunt him. (Source: WAVE 3...
Johnson recovered, but there were wounds he couldn't see that would haunt him. (Source: WAVE 3 News Archive)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - WAVE 3 News Safety and Security Expert D'Shawn Johnson recalled vividly the night he was shot in the line of duty.

On patrol as a Louisville police officer, he stopped in the Portland neighborhood to break up a fight when shots rang out.

"It always stays in your mind," he said thoughtfully. "And you always mark that date, you know, when you could have lost your life."

In Johnson's case, it was June 19, 1999.

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The bullet entered his upper arm, shattered the bone and lodged deep in his shoulder. He said there was so much blood, he thought his life was over.

He described sitting on the pavement in an alley, feeling angry that he would not be able to say goodbye to the people he loved.

"Thought about family, thought about friends. Basically that was it," he sighed.

Five surgeries and six months of metal rods protruding from his arm helped put Johnson's body back together. But there were also wounds he said he could not see.

First there were the nightmares.

"For about the first couple of weeks I was waking up and I would smell gunfire," Johnson said. "I would smell sulfur and for a while I thought I was going crazy."

It was the beginning of Johnson's struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"I wouldn't call them panic attacks," Johnson said. "Your heightened sense of awareness is always on a level 9 and 10. To where you hear things, cars backfire."

Johnson was trying to recover at a time when PTSD was not widely understood and seldom treated. But he did seek help.

And while he still lives with the physical and emotional pain daily, he learned to manage the symptoms of his injuries, both seen and unseen.

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"That's something that once it becomes part of you, it doesn't turn off. It becomes part of your DNA and you can't say I'm just going to turn it off today. You can't," he explained.

Johnson eventually returned to his job patrolling the streets but it didn't last for long. He lost 30% of the feeling and use of right arm and was unable to fully continue his duties.

Johnson said he has some simple advice for Detective Darrell Hyche, who was wounded on duty Thursday.

"When you need help, ask for it," he said.

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