By Théoden Janes The Charlotte Observer
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Shark attack survivor Tiffany Johnson shares her story of survival and how she found a deep divine purpose in what happened on the day she was attacked.
The Charlotte Observer
It would be hard to blame Tiffany Johnson if she wanted to spend a few fleeting moments every now and then wondering: What if?
What if, for instance, she'd climbed back onto that tour boat with her husband J.J. after he fell ill while they were snorkeling in the Bahamas?
What if the captain had picked this particular part of the reef over which to float his boat, instead of that one?
Would the Charlotte mother of three still have her right forearm? That is, would she never have had to endure the terrifying experience of a shark tearing the limb from her body two years ago?
Yet, the thing is, Johnson doesn't wrestle with those types of questions, ever, because she has what she feels is a definitive answer.
A divine answer.
"When I think back, would I change it? No. I wouldn't change it. I would do it all over again, because I see how God's using it," says the 34-year-old project manager, who has maintained that her religious faith is what gave her the strength to make it out of the water alive. "I see the lives that are being impacted by me sharing my story. Even if I've helped just one person, it's worth it."
And since the June 2, 2017 attack, Johnson says she's continued finding comfort and strength and purpose thanks to her faith at every turn, through a media frenzy, a return trip to the Bahamas, a return to snorkeling, her quest for a perfectly fitting prosthetic limb, and her very-recent decision to tell her kids how she really lost her arm.
This is the story of Johnson's recovery, in her own words, as told to the Charlotte Observer (with portions edited for clarity and brevity). __ The first reporter that called was a guy from TrackingSharks.com. I'd never heard of it. He somehow tracked us down in the hospital in Charlotte, only a few hours before we were discharged. He said, "Up until now, there've been reports, but they've not had your name, nobody's linked it to you." But he followed the trail and figured out it was me, and he's like, "I want permission to use your name in the story."
At first I thought, I just don't know if I'm ready for this. I'm not even out of the hospital yet. But he told me that he was a Christian, and he gave me the best advice, before the onslaught happened. He said, "If it's important to you to have your faith in this, then how you say it is going to make all the difference. Insert the name of Jesus, insert the Lord, and say it often, because when they try to cut it out, they won't be able to. And make sure you negotiate that at the very beginning." I thought, Wow. This was a godsend.
So at the end of the conversation, I said, "OK, I think I'm comfortable for you to share my story, for you to be the first one."
Then when the media onslaught happened, I had the tools to navigate that. When people would reach out, at the beginning of the conversations I would tell them, "Listen, I'm gonna be talking about my faith, I'm gonna be talking about Jesus and God, and if you're not comfortable with that, then we don't have a story to tell you, because that is the story." It kind of set a precedent right up front, so months later, when we would get interviews, I would start to say that and they're like, "Yeah, we already know."
Looking back, that was totally the Lord's doing, that this random guy from TrackingSharks.com was the first one to call. __ There was actually a website (the now-defunct FakeStoryOfTheDay.com) that posted an article later that summer claiming my story was fake. I was scrolling to the bottom to leave a comment on it and I saw they had a picture of Lieutenant Dan from "Forrest Gump" with a little header that said, "CGI?" (That's short for computer-generated imagery). I'm like, Are you kidding me? Do you think "Inside Edition" and the "Today" show have nothing better to do with their time than CGI something like that?
So I left a comment on his site and just said, "I'm Tiffany Johnson, and I can verify that everything that has been shared so far has been directly from me, and it's true. If you want to talk about it, here's my information." And he actually reached out to me.
He said the reason why he started looking into it as a fake story is because there was a picture that was released of me getting out of the hospital in a wheelchair with a big huge club arm, and I had this giant smile on my face. He said, "There's no way you could be that happy coming out of a situation like that."
I said, "I was actually just full of the Lord's joy, because I was alive, and my perspective has shifted because of that. Just because it doesn't seem feasible, when you've got the Lord, all bets are off."
He ended up retracting the article. __ We went on a cruise in April of last year with some friends, and Nassau was the first stop. And I remember looking at my husband as we were planning it and saying, "We're gonna go back to Nassau only 10 months later?" I wasn't fearful, but it was just like, Am I ready for that? But the more I started thinking about it and praying about it, I really felt at peace about going back.
So I got up early the morning we were supposed to arrive, and I went out to the balcony and started doing a Bible study. As we were pulling in, I could see Nassau, I could see Paradise Island, and it was really emotional. I'm just staring at it thinking, Wow, this is where it was supposed to end, but God redeemed us and we're able to stand here today. __ On that same cruise, we stopped in Grand Cayman and there was a preserve where you could snorkel with turtles that was across the street from the ocean, there was no way anything was in there that they didn't allow in; it was man-made. I'm like, "Let's do it. I love snorkeling. I know that there's no danger. And I think this is a perfect first step back into what we love to do."
After putting the mask on and going under the water, I started hearing my breath through that snorkel tube, and negative thoughts started hitting me. But I remember thinking, No. I'm not going to let myself go down that rabbit hole, because this is God's creation, this is what we love to do, and I need to enjoy it. I can't let myself be paralyzed in fear. In The Word, it says to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ, and that's exactly what I did: I was like, Alright, I'm taking the negative thoughts and I'm throwing them out.
I enjoyed it, and it was fun, and after we got out, I was like, I did it! I was just ecstatic to get another notch in the healing belt. It wasn't in the open ocean, but I went snorkeling again. __ Other than that, I haven't dealt with any depression, I haven't dealt with any PTSD. And that, to me, is a huge miracle. I am so thankful that the Lord's covered me in peace so that I can function.