In early 2004, Matthew Johnston, along with friends and family, 'took to the streets' with an aggressive grassroots effort for Matt's dream and voice to be heard. It all started with this message from Matt, which reached many of the key individuals that came together to support the project.
I am looking for any kind of help a person can offer. With help from medical persons, scuba divers, family and friends, I am really close to making my dream come true. I have sent my information out to local and national media sources to see if anyone was interested. I have also contacted quite a few colleges to see if their engineering departments would be willing to use my dream as a project. Since I have been pursuing my dream, I've received packages from some elementary schools from around the country where young students have been sending me hand drawn pictures and letters of encouragement. It was very cool and thoughtful. It's really touching. I also received a letter of encouragement from Richard Branson, President of Virgin Records Corporation, and Tiger Woods.
Here’s a little bit about myself. I have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. I am 28 years old. I use a custom made Bivona trach and breathe with an HT50 ventilator during the day. At night I use an LP10 ventilator at with a humidifier. I also have a Port A Cath for yearly blood work (flushed once a month) and for emergency antibiotics. But I haven't had to use it for antibiotics for just over a few years. I don't think this will hinder my quest to go diving since I am not going to go very deep. Approximately two years ago I used to be able to be off the ventilator during the day, now I am totally dependent on the vent except for the few minutes it takes for a transfer from wheelchair to bed and vice-versa.
As far as movement on my own, I am only able to move my thumbs and hands, and I control my wheelchair this way through fiber optics. I also have scoliosis. None of this holds me back! I have slight movement in my legs and arms. When I am in water I think I will be able to move my limbs easier, since you're weightless in the water. Doctors said I have 9 lives for as many times that I have come close to dying. But I am still kicking! The reason I am doing so well is that I have a loving family. My Dad, Charlee Dollens, takes awesome care of me all day. My dad gave up a lot so that I could stay in our home. I also have great homecare nurses 8 hours a day. I also have wonderful friends. Especially the divers I have met on the way. All of them keep me going. I don't know how much longer I have to live, could be a day, could be a year, could be more. Sometimes doctors don't know the answer either. I have done a lot of things in my life. I have traveled around the world and fought many health battles. I love summer and going for walks. I am a big movie fan. I love computers, I do a lot on them.
Scuba diving is something I have wanted to do since I was around 6 years old. I never knew there were all these organizations out there for handicapped divers until now. I have contacted many handicapped scuba groups already but unfortunately none of them have experience with ventilators. Otherwise I would have done this sooner when it would have been less technical. I live in Woodbury, Minnesota; land of many lakes. I would be grateful for any help you could offer. My primary doctor happens to be a scuba diver also. He told me he would dive with me, when the time comes. My respiratory doctor, and his colleagues think it is possible with the right equipment.
I am a very big fan of the underwater world. I have always been impressed with the Navy and the Navy SEALS and all they do underwater. The diving technology now is amazing. Nothing is impossible! I have a ton of respect for the men and women in the military and always wished I could have been a part of that. If man can go to the moon, I can certainly go scuba diving! It was a dream of someone to go to the moon at one time and it happened. I know that NASA does amazing things. Plus the technology for astronauts is similar to that of scuba divers. Though I know scuba divers have to deal with a lot more pressure! I watch a lot of TV shows on diving and have looked at many things on the internet. I guess you could say I am addicted! My favorite underwater creature is the shark. My favorite show is Deep Sea Detectives, starring one of my heroes, John Chatterton. I think scuba divers are a great group of people and some of the luckiest people around. They get to experience a whole other world under the water.
In 2003 my best friend Michelle, who was also my nurse, died. I realized that life is too short and to enjoy it while you can. I am going to enjoy every day like it is my last day. I don't know when my time is coming, but this is a big dream that I would do anything to make happen before I die. I believe that anything is possible with persistence. I will never give up on my dream. I would be happy to go just 2-10 feet under for 12 to 20 minutes. If I could go deeper for longer, that would be great. I do realize that the pressure underwater is different. I told my doctors, "I don't care how many times you need to take blood gases from me...lol!" (fyi-since this writing, Matt has been to 5 feet for OVER ONE HOUR, AND IN THE OCEAN)
I know it is possible. To overcome these challenges, a new life support system needs to be developed, or an existing system will need to be modified, for me to spend longer times time under water.
This dream is what brings me to you.
Matt Scott Johnston
content copyright Ocean Opportunity Inc. 2004-2013