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Over Twenty Years of Friendship Between RCEMS Director and Former Patient

The night of May 16, 1998 changed Jeremy Johnson’s life forever. Following his high school prom, Jeremy was driving down Halls Hill Pike and without being able to recall just exactly how it happened, he flipped his car, ended up ejecting from the vehicle and was at the bottom of a steep embankment.

What was left of Jeremy’s car after the accident—had he not been ejected, the windshield would have likely impaled his head.

Jeremy lifeless in his hospital bed at Vanderbilt Medical Center after the accident.

Carl Hudgens posing with the groom, Jeremy, on his wedding day.

A friend, who just happened to be passing by, saw the lights from Jeremy’s car but upon approaching the car could not find any sign of anyone. Just as he was leaving the scene, he heard rustling in the bushes where Jeremy landed, and immediately called for help.

Carl Hudgens, now Director of Rutherford County Emergency Medical Services, and his partner Pam Frank responded to the scene. “With an obvious closed head injury, Jeremy’s jaws had clamped down, preventing him from breathing,” said Hudgens. “We gave him some medicine to relax his face and were able to clear his airway before transporting him to Vanderbilt Medical Center. I did not give him much hope at that point. He was in bad shape.”

Jeremy suffered a fractured skull and severe nerve damage which left much of his face paralyzed. “When I woke up, I had no idea who my parents were,” said Jeremy. “It was like meeting them for the first time, and I couldn’t move certain parts of my face.”

He spent a couple of months in the hospital until he was well enough to be transferred to Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital to undergo extensive physical and cognitive therapies. His total recovery with both in and out patient therapies took about six months. “I had to relearn my numbers and vocabulary. It was like going back to the beginning of my early childhood education,” he said. “I had to learn to walk again and other basic movements too.”

In December of 1998, Jeremy met his now wife Melissa. They began dating January of the following year. In 2000, the couple decided to get married and had one very special guest in mind to invite— the medic responsible for saving Jeremy’s life and ultimately giving him the opportunity to have a wedding day.

“The doctors at Vanderbilt told me I wasn’t supposed to live,” said Johnson. “Carl and the other medics saved my life that night.”

“I don’t know how he survived,” said Carl. “I told his parents that I honestly did not know if he was going to make it.”

Hudgens was more than happy to attend the wedding and has remained close with the couple for over 20 years now. Just last week, the two stopped in with the newest addition to their family—Easton Paul Johnson, born June 8, 2020. “We had to come visit Uncle Carl,” said Jeremy. Melissa agreed, “Yet again, without his intervention, neither Jeremy nor Easton would have been in the picture.”

Johnson still has to take medicine because of the injuries he sustained and has suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well, but he credits Carl with not only saving his life, but helping him to live a full one. “I am very blessed,” said Johnson.

A proud Carl Hudgens “Uncle Carl” holds baby Easton alongside mom and dad, Jeremy and Melissa Johnson.

The bond between Johnson and Hudgens is obvious when the two are in the room together. It’s like they are family, even down to the joking. Carl said, “You know, you weren’t easy to work on. I sure earned my money that night,” and Jeremy replied, “Well, if Facebook had been around back then, I would have given you a five star rating.”

On a serious note, Hudgens said, saves of this magnitude only happen once or twice in your career. “I will never forget that night as long as I live,” he said. “Seeing Jeremy sitting across from me beaming at his newborn son makes me feel proud to be a part of his story.”