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Naples’ Tyler Johns happy to be back home after losing arm in airboat accident

By Adam Fisher of the Naples Daily News

After nearly two weeks in a hospital bed, Tyler Johns is ready to start living his life again.

The Naples swamp buggy driver, who lost most of his left arm in an airboat accident, returned home Wednesday. Less than 24 hours later, Johns was out and about in Naples doing all his normal routines — driving his car, going to work, visiting friends.

Only now Johns is learning to do them with one arm.

“I’m back at it,” the 32-year-old said. “They caged me up for 10 days. I don’t want to be caged up anymore.”

Johns’ arm was severed above the elbow as he tried to dislodge his personal airboat, which was stuck in the swamp late at night on May 7. He was airlifted to Kendall Regional Medical Center near Miami, where he was until being released Wednesday.

Though the wound isn’t completely healed and Johns will have to go back to Kendall for at least two more procedures, the racer is thankful to be out of the hospital.

“Hospitals aren’t meant for healing,” Johns said. “Home is where the heart is. I feel better just being home, being out in the sunshine again. That’s your normalcy.”

The wound on Johns’ left arm isn’t sealed as doctors continue to monitor the injury for infection. Johns has a small vacuum attached to the wound to keep it clean. He will go to Kendall on Friday for an outpatient procedure to further clean the wound.

Johns could require another surgery if the arm gets infected. Once doctors are confident that won’t happen, they will seal the wound and perform plastic surgery to shape what’s left of Johns’ arm for a prosthetic.

Because the accident happened in the Everglades, in the middle of all of the bacteria and plants floating around the swamp, doctors have taken extra precautions to make sure the wound is clean.

“He’s ready to get back to his regular life,” said Samantha Johns, Tyler’s wife. “He’s happy to be home. He’s doing everything for himself and getting around well. He’s really determined. He’s a strong person. He knows he’ll get back to doing what he normally does.”

Since the accident, the Johns family has received a flood of support from friends and family and the swamp buggy community. The support continues Sunday with a fundraiser for Johns at Florida Sport Park in East Naples, home of the buggy races.

Shortly after the accident a fundraising page was created for Johns on crowdsourcing website GoFundMe. More than $46,000 has been donated so far (though the website keeps 5 percent).

Family friend Alyssa Blocker Reidy, who organized Sunday’s event, said she hopes to get another $40,000 from the fundraiser. Johns does not have health insurance.

“Almost everyone (Johns) knows has donated or offered to help,” Blocker Reidy said. “I’m definitely not doing this alone.”

Blocker Reidy’s husband, Steve Reidy, went to Gulf Coast High School with Johns, and the two remain best friends. She expects around 1,000 people for Sunday’s fundraiser, from friends to other drivers to fans who have watched Johns drive the “Mile-o-Mud” the past 15 years.

The fundraiser is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Florida Sports Park and costs $15 for a BBQ meal ($5 for kids). There will be a silent auction, live music and T-shirt sales.

Johns plans to be at the event, which has received support from businesses and people around Collier County.

One of the people who waves flags at Florida Sports Park owns a barbecue pit and is cooking pork butt Sunday. Someone else donated 500 pounds of chicken. Nana’s Diner donated side dishes. Big Papa’s Country Kitchen, a local caterer with a mobile grill, also will cook.

The outpouring of support has helped Johns stay positive and start to move on from his accident.

“Man, I’m feeling good,” Johns said. “Physically, I’m a little beat up, but that all gets fixed in time. Emotionally, I’m just thankful to be here. I thank God every day I still got air in my lungs. I get to see my baby girl and my wife and my family and friends. It’s been good.”

Upon arriving in Naples on Wednesday, Johns surprised his 6-year-old daughter, Rorie, by picking her up at school. Rorie stayed with her maternal grandmother while Johns was in the hospital.

On Thursday, Johns visited the offices of Phoenix Associates, where he works as a supervisor for the general contracting company. He drove himself to work. Johns has avoided pain medication, taking only over-the-counter drugs, specifically so he could drive a car.

“He was just overjoyed and very emotional to be coming home,” said Lorrie Johns, Tyler’s mother and a fellow swamp buggy driver. “He just wants to get back to normal — to feel regular and feel like he’s back in the real world.”

Johns said he plans to return to full-time work at Phoenix Associates once his arm is completely healed. As a supervisor, he doesn’t have to do much physical work, he said. However, Johns hopes to get a prosthetic arm and hand that allows him to do tasks like hammer a nail or use a drill.

“He’s not going to let this slow him down,” Samantha Johns said.

Written By

Avi Adkins is a seasoned journalist with a passion for storytelling and a keen eye for detail. With years of experience in the field, Adkins has established himself as a respected figure in journalism.

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