Retired businessman and Cobb community volunteer Fitz Johnson and wife Suzann Wilcox were among the early coronavirus patients in Cobb. Now the two have turned their illnesses into helping others.

After battling an infection for four weeks in March, Johnson and Wilcox have recovered. Early on it wasn’t apparent they had contracted COVID-19, but later they both received confirmation they’d contracted the potentially deadly coronavirus.

With that test result and the ensuing recovery, Johnson said, it was an opportunity to give back, so the couple participated in an Emory antibody study, and Johnson gave plasma to the Red Cross to help those fighting serious infections. (Wilcox couldn’t donate plasma as she was rejected due to low iron levels, but she’s taking an iron supplement and hopes to be able to do her part soon.)

Johnson began feeling ill in mid-March, when he had a fever, which is unusual for him, he said.

His symptoms quickly worsened, including body aches, coughing and shortness of breath. He resisted going to a hospital at first but eventually was persuaded as the symptoms became more severe.

“About the 23rd, I thought it was going to be over,” he said.

The next day, he checked into Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, where doctors ran some normal tests and confirmed that he had pneumonia and other symptoms of the virus.

Tests weren’t readily available then, and Johnson’s doctor told him that whether he had COVID-19 or not the response would be the same: they pumped him with more fluids and sent him home to self-isolate.

Around that time, his wife Suzann began to feel ill with different symptoms: body aches and loss of taste and smell.

“I’m glad that’s all she had,” Johnson said.

Four days after the hospital visit, the couple felt better, but played it safe by staying home longer than the doctors instructed — just in case.

Now that they’re both feeling better, they’re turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse by helping others. That led to the Emory study and plasma donation.

“Hopefully it will help many people, but if I can help just one person — I wanted to make sure I could give back, and make sure I helped somebody else going through this,” Johnson said.

Johnson had special thanks for all the health care workers who helped him and everyone with the coronavirus. They are “just killing it.”

“They are working their tails off and putting themselves at risk. They truly are our heroes right now,” he said.

To donate plasma specifically for COVID-19 patients, donors should already have positive antibodies test results. To register, visit the American Red Cross website.


THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE? Normally the Cobb County School District would have approved a fiscal year 2021 budget by now, but since Georgia lawmakers have been out of session due to COVID-19, the district has elected to wait to discuss money until the Legislature does first.

Even still, Cobb school board member David Morgan, while acknowledging the budget as a “question mark” suggested at a recent board meeting that Counselors of the Year named at the districtwide elementary, middle and high school levels should receive a pay bonus. He said the bonus would be similar to what Teachers of the Year receive.

“The reason this is also near and dear to my heart is because, as a school teacher, I see the tremendous impact that counselors have in our school building ... ” he said. “I see the … essential nature of having invested counselors.”

Board member Dr. Jaha Howard praised Morgan for his idea and said adding three pay bonuses to the budget would have a relatively small impact compared to other large investments the district has made.

“I think that there is a way to make that happen,” Howard said.

Chairman Brad Wheeler also expressed appreciation for the idea, citing a growth in need for counselors. But both Morgan and Wheeler punted to Superintendent Chris Ragsdale for the question of whether the money was available or not.

The short answer, Ragsdale said, “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

Citing a possible 14% cut in state funding coming to Cobb schools (that’s $80 million), Ragsdale said, at least for now, the item is off the table.


SHERIFF RACE #1: Cobb County School District board member Charisse Davis is endorsing private investigator Jimmy Herndon for Cobb sheriff, following in the footsteps of fellow Cobb school board member Jaha Howard, who recently announced his own endorsement of Herndon.

Herdon is one of three Democratic candidates for Cobb sheriff in the June 9 primary, alongside Cobb Police Precinct Commander Craig Owens and Gregory Gilstrap, who has made the run for the sheriff’s office before. The Democratic primary winner will contest incumbent Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren, the only Republican candidate, in the November general election.

“I met Jimmy early in this election season and knew that his experience, candor about the issues, and desire to improve the Cobb County sheriff’s department, is exactly what our community needs,” Davis said May 21.

Herndon said he wants to focus on youth education if elected sheriff, and prevent young people from being arrested.

“The last place I want to see our young people is in the Cobb county jail and to do that it will take a concerted effort in supporting our parents, educators and students,” Herndon said.


SHERIFF RACE #2: Sheriff hopeful Owens was quick to pounce on news that primary opponent Herndon, a former sergeant at the sheriff’s office, had used profane and threatening language with a young man while attempting to serve a warrant in 2016.

Hours after the MDJ published a story and video about the incident, Owens described it as “disturbing, unethical and the embodiment of everything that people feel is wrong with the police,” in a statement provided by a spokesperson Thursday night. “Herndon is unfit to serve and should immediately drop out of the sheriff’s race.”

Owens’ statement points out that Herndon has called for an end to arresting people for marijuana use, and proclaims the video “stands in direct contrast with that position,” as Herndon can be heard on the video accusing the young man of smoking pot and threatens to take him to jail.

Owens said he would be a different kind of sheriff.

“I spent my entire military career protecting individuals from people like James Herndon and, as a member of the law enforcement community,” he is quoted as saying.

The incident was one of two the sheriff’s office cited when it suspended Herndon for four working days — 32 hours — in August 2017 and contributed to his eventual departure from the department.


SHERIFF RACE #3: But Herndon is not the only Democrat running for sheriff to have been briefly suspended from a Cobb law enforcement agency.

In 2011, Owens was suspended from the Cobb County Police Department for two days after his take-home county vehicle was totaled when driving to work one evening, according to his personnel file, a copy of which the MDJ obtained through an Open Records request this week.

According to the memorandum informing Owens of his suspension, he was driving from Fort Gillem in the city of Forest Park to Cobb Precinct 3 “after dropping off some military orders on your way to work evening shift.”

“Although you were traveling to work, Fort Gillem would not be considered to be on your route to work and it is outside of Cobb County,” the memo notes. Although Owens was not at-fault in the crash, the “violation of policy put the vehicle at the location where it was ‘totaled’ … As such, your violation of policy had a significant financial impact on the county.”

Owens disputes that last fact, saying the vehicle was only considered totaled because of its age.

As to why he took the car to his second job in the first place, the sheriff hopeful said he’d been told he was among those who could use county vehicles without restriction, as some high-ranking members of the department could. The practice was common among those of his rank at the time, he said.

Deputy chief R. Storey, who wrote the aforementioned memo, found this unconvincing, given Owens’ 21 years with the department at the time.

If anything, Owens said, the incident highlights why he would make a good sheriff.

“Sir, if you determine that I do indeed fall under the restricted class category, I accept full responsibility for my actions and any disciplinary action you see appropriate I will accept with no additional rebuttal,” reads his official response, a copy of which he provided Friday.

“I’m a humble employee,” he told AT.


On this holiday weekend, we leave you with the words of President Ronald Reagan.

“ … And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice.”

Stay safe this Memorial Day weekend.

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