CINCINNATI -- Once, 14-year-old Croix Johnson found comfort in football and basketball. After spending almost six months at Children's Hospital, where he could not participate in those activities for the sake of his own health, he found a new love in music.
"It just wasn't a part of my life a lot when I was playing sports," he said. "Now, it's a big deal."
Johnson's family didn't expect him to stay for six months when they checked in. They thought he had the flu, but in reality the problem was far more serious: A viral infection had damaged his heart and was sending him into cardiac arrest.
"They were like, ‘He's going into open heart surgery,'" his mother, Marla Berry, recalled. "We were like, ‘From the flu?'"
Everything seemed to happen at once. The surgery was immediate; the fear his parents experienced equally so. Next came five months of recovery, during which he went through physical rehabilitation that included playing instruments to repair his motor skills.
"He was non-verbal," his mother said. "He received a trach. … It took a toll on everybody from the grandparent to the dog."
Helping the family through their unexpected emotional gauntlet was pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Roosevelt Bryant III, who performed his heart surgery and had a son the same age as Johnson.
"He immediately connected with Croix because he said, ‘Man, this could be my son right here,'" Craig Johnson, Croix's father, recalled.
Bryant stayed with the family through the most difficult parts of the boy's recovery -- so much so they knew it would be difficult to say goodbye as Croix regained his health.
So they decided not to.
"I just said, ‘Hey … we'd like for you to part of his life," Berry said.
Bryant officially became Johnson's godfather after they checked out of the hospital. Johnson's recovery is ongoing, but he'll have his family, his godfather and his instruments to help him through.