MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For a Twin Cities couple, the holidays are a mix of hope and pain. After unspeakable loss, the Johnson’s are focused on the needs of a new member of the family.

“Matthew made us love again, and that’s the gift,” Dan Johnson said.

There’s no question that Matthew is an important piece of the Rosemount family, although the little boy was never a part of Cathi and Dan Johnson’s plan.

“He was born 5,000 miles away, but he’s my son,” Dan said. “He’s part of me.”

Their story begins with tragedy — any parent’s worst nightmare.

“They were late and we started to worry,” Cathi said. “We were very nervous.”

Ten years ago, their 21-year old son, Andrew and 15-year-old daughter, Christina were visiting friends near Duluth. Andrew missed a stop sign.

“I expected his car to be pulling up, but it was the State Patrol,” Cathi said. “The police. All these cars pulled up.”

Cathi and Dan lost them both that night. Luckily, their oldest daughter wasn’t in the car — she’d just started college in another state.

“It was very hard to not just fall, because you knew life just wasn’t going to be the same again,” Dan said.

Three years later, rather than spending another somber anniversary at home, Cathi volunteered for a mission trip to Liberia.

“I went there to grieve,” Cathi said. “It was a totally selfish trip.”

As a nurse, she went to share her medical knowledge and help as many as she could. It’s when a 4-day-old Matthew was dropped off at the hospital.

His mother didn’t want him– scared of the son with a cleft lip and palate she’d given birth to. Children born with deformities in the area were usually abandoned and left to die.

“He just stole my heart,” Cathi said.

Matthew was also born deaf and suffered from serious stomach problems. Cathi spent weeks keeping him alive until she was granted permission to adopt him and bring him home.

“The gift of Mathew is that he made us have to love again,” Dan said. “He made us have to care again.”

He’s been through dozens of surgeries since then, and is now a first-grader at a special school for the deaf. Dan and Cathi say they’ve never looked at their son as a replacement for what they lost — only a reason to go on.

“With the world as it is right now, that’s the hardest part — seeing how many people want to be angry, and how many people want to distance themselves from everybody,” Dan said. “Getting to know people and getting to care is the most important thing you can do.”

If you’d like to help the Johnson’s cover some of the costs of Matthews mounting medical bills, you can donate to their GoFundMe page.

Liz Collin

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