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Family honors Tecumseh teen's life with Shelby's Big Red Heart Day

Elisabeth Slay
The Shawnee News-Star
The Johnson family is honoring their daughter Shelby Johnson who passed away in a car accident January 26, 2019.
The Johnson family is honoring their daughter Shelby Johnson who passed away in a car accident January 26, 2019.
Shelby Johnson is described by her family as being generous, kind and artistic. She was drawn to photography and often took unique photos which her family said captured the way she saw the world.
Shelby Johnson is described by her family as being generous, kind and artistic. She was drawn to photography and often took unique photos which her family said captured the way she saw the world.

To honor the life of Shelby Johnson and those she helped through organ donation, the Johnson family invites Tecumseh and surrounding areas to partake in Shelby's Big Red Heart Day on Jan. 26, 2021.

According to Shelby's father Patrick Johnson, his 17-year-old daughter and her 18-year-old friend Logan Deardorff died in a car accident Jan. 26, 2019.

Patrick said rather than remember the way Shelby left the world, he and members of her family —  Molly, Dana, Kaitlyn, Maggie and their friends — have decided to celebrate the way Shelby lived her life with Shelby's Big Red Heart Day.

"We are rapidly approaching the second anniversary of our tragic loss. As this date approaches, we relive the accounts that transpired that horrible evening," Patrick said, speaking on behalf of the family. "What we also carry with us is what came next from friends and family, and the outpouring of love from the community brought light to a day that was so dark."

The father of three said as the one-year anniversary of Shelby's death approached, the family struggled greatly with the sadness of losing her.

"We looked for ways not to mourn her on Jan. 26, rather to celebrate her time with us and others," he said. "We reflected on memories, photos and fantastic stories from her classmates and teachers. We learned that Shelby was very revered within our community."

The family will spend Shelby's Big Red Heart Day honoring her life rather than the day she died.

"We hope this day brings to memory the generous life that Shelby lived, and continues to live in the actions we can do on her behalf," he said.

Shelby's father said she was an organ donor and her passing changed the lives of several people across the country and even one in Oklahoma.

"Shelby gave hope, displayed grace and accepted everyone every single day through her 17 years on this earth," he said. "We have adopted a phrase in her memory: 'Life is not forever, love is.'"

Last year the Johnson family, friends and members of the community gathered to celebrate Shelby's life.

"We had an incredibly positive response to last years’ celebration," he said. "We came together as a group, we shared letters we had received from her organ donation recipients, shared stories of the many great memories, shared her favorite foods and hugged each other the way that Shelby loved to give hugs."

This year for Shelby's Big Red Heart Day,  Shelby's family hopes people will love like their daughter, sister, granddaughter and friend did everyday.

"Shelby always thought of others first and was very giving of her time through volunteer opportunities," Patrick said. "We want to encourage others to remember Shelby through acts of kindness on this day."

The Johnson family said Shelby would not want anyone to be sad on Jan. 26 but rather bring the joy and laughter she brought to others. "Her joy and kindness is what we want to spread to others, not on just this day but every day," they said. "We declare Shelby’s Big Red Heart Day on Jan. 26 because that is the day she left this earth. Shelby would want us to give back, give in secret and empower those that are less fortunate."

Going forward, Patrick said he and his family hope to continue to bring awareness to the reason Shelby passed away.

"We are working with legislature, state officials and public officials on the House Bill 3373, which addresses an issue that we believe would have saved Shelby that day," the family said in a statement. "We (also) hope to increase awareness of organ donation and the gift that Shelby was able to give to others through Life Share Oklahoma. We hope to bring as much positivity in our daughters’ memory as she gave to the earth in her short 17 years."

The Johnson family will continue to be open to organizations and potentially developing an organization in Shelby's name to give back to the community.

"Loss of a child is the ultimate tragedy. Nothing we believe could be more devastating but we refuse to be drawn into the sadness," Patrick said. "We are held up by our faith, family and friends."