When Veronica Johnson lost her 2-year-old son Dylan to a rare congenital disorder in 2000, she could have easily slipped into depression. But rather than letting it cripple her, Dylan’s passing ignited a new passion and purpose.
“Most parents would crawl under a rock and die. Once I accepted the fact my son was gone, my life changed. I was able to be more active and be more vocal,” said Johnson, a Fremont resident of 45 years. “I can’t bring Dylan back, but I can take everything I’ve learned and help other families.”
For the past 14 years, Johnson and her husband Frank have held the Annual Dylan Johnson Bowl-A-Thon, with all proceeds benefitting the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Bay Area chapter and helping terminally-ill children live their dreams.
This year’s event will be held this Saturday, Oct. 12 at noon at Cloverleaf Family Bowl, located at 40645 Fremont Blvd. Admission is $20, which includes three games and shoe rental. There will also be raffle prizes and a silent auction with a trip to Disneyland, autographed sports memorabilia and first row Oakland A’s tickets, among other items, up for grabs.
At her first event in 2000, Johnson raised $3,000. Her plan was to stop after raising $50,000. But each year, she raises more money than the previous year, bringing in $33,000 alone in 2013.
To date, she’s raised $215,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, with hopes of breaking $250,000 this weekend.
“That’s not bad for a little bowling event in Fremont,” she said. “Now here I am getting ready to hit a quarter-million.”
It’s a bittersweet milestone for Johnson.
Dylan Michael Johnson was born June 24, 1998 with Ivemark Syndrome, which causes a malformation of the heart and an abnormal arrangement of the organs.
“My son was like a mirror inside. His heart on the other side,” Johnson explained.
Dylan’s short life was filled with repeat visits to doctors and multiple open-heart surgeries. It was an extremely stressful time, emotionally and financially, for the Johnson family. As a distraction and gift for her son, Johnson contacted the Make-A-Wish Foundation in hopes of taking Dylan to Disneyland.
Within a month, the Johnson family received a free three-day trip to Disneyland, a day at Knott’s Berry Farm, $1,000 in spending money and a private meeting with Mickey Mouse and friends.
“It was absolutely amazing,” Johnson said. “For five days, we didn’t think about doctors or medication. We enjoyed our time as a family.”
It was one of the last memories the family shared together.
Ten days later on July 27, 2000, Dylan passed away following his fourth open-heart surgery. The family was devastated, but Johnson refused to let it break her.
A month after Dylan’s passing, Johnson went to visit his gravesite at Holy Sepulchre in Hayward. She says a sudden breeze came across the cemetery and her body went limp. “He was talking to me,” Johnson said. She said he asked for one final wish: to grant wishes to other children.
Johnson has made it her mission to help others in Dylan’s name. Because of her continued efforts, she now serves on the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s advisory board and is a Wish Star Program manager.
“There so many children that need wishes granted here in the Bay Area with life-threatening illnesses,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, wishes can be as simple as wanting a laptop to meeting celebrities or going on an African safari, with the average cost of a wish being $9,000. The foundation will pay for the entire family’s trip, regardless of how many siblings a recipient has.
If Johnson raises at least $30,000 this weekend, three Bay Area children will be able to receive wishes from the foundation.
The bowl-a-thon is one of the best ways to get the word out about the foundation, Johnson said.
“For me, $20 to bowl at Cloverleaf is as good as gold. It’s not so much about the money, but about the education,” Johnson said.
And it’s therapeutic for Johnson.
“The bowling event is my best day of the year. I’m able to still talk about him and share him and have people that want to be there to hear about him and see him,” she said. “We play a video before the event so everyone can see him again. There’s not a dry eye in the house when that video plays … I want them to feel that, to go home and hug their children.”
“Don’t take anything for granted.”
The 14th Annual Dylan Johnson Bowl-A-Thon begins Saturday at noon. Admission is $20. For more information about the event and Dylan’s story, visit www.dylansbowlathon.com.