Queens track star Ahtyana Johnson, diagnosed last year with a potentially fatal blood disorder, has overcome the biggest hurdle of her life.
Less than a year after she was sidelined with aplastic anemia, Johnson has beaten the disease and secured a scholarship to run track at Division I powerhouse University of South Carolina.
“I feel good about the whole experience,” the soft-spoken 18-year-old told the Daily News.
“I think everything happens for a reason. I feel now I’m back on track. It feels pretty good that I was able to put it all behind me.
“I have gained a sense of maturity,” added the Cardozo High School star. “Some things don’t work out the way you want them to, but you can’t let them get you down.”
Johnson’s illness struck at the height of her career.
She powered her 4-by-400-meter relay team to victory in the Millrose Games in January 2010, erasing a 5-meter deficit in the anchor leg despite a stomach virus.
She was being courted by several elite track programs that September when she suddenly developed fatigue so severe she struggled to climb stairs after practice.
Johnson’s parents brought her to the hospital, and several days later doctors informed them she had aplastic anemia, a rare and potentially fatal condition in which the body stops producing enough new blood cells.
The disorder can be treated in two ways: through a debilitating course of medication or a risky bone marrow transplant.
After Johnson learned that neither her parents nor her sister were matches, she started medical therapy and endured twice weekly blood transfusions.
Johnson was home-schooled, forcing her to miss her entire senior season.
“There were days when I was upset – I was like, ‘Why did this happen to me?'” Johnson said inside her Springfield Gardens home. “But I don’t think I ever had a doubt that I wasn’t going to get over it.”
The news Johnson and her family were waiting for came in January when doctors told them her body was responding to the treatment.
She returned to school in February and started training again last month.
She was offered a partial scholarship to the University of South Carolina by track coach Curtis Frye.
“It’s a blessing where she is now,” said Johnson’s mother, Fronia. “It could have gone either way.”
In recent months, Johnson and her parents have helped organize bone marrow drives. Johnson’s stints at Long Island Jewish Medical Center profoundly affected her and her family.
Johnson said her ordeal has brought her already close-knit family closer – and she has noticed that her mother cries a lot more now.
“But they’re tears of joy,” Fronia Johnson said.
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