Like many 6-year-olds, Johnny Jimenez has dreams of playing sports at the professional level.
His goal is to play Major League Baseball. In the spring, he got to play as part of a league, and his favorite team, the Texas Rangers, won their first World Series. His father, Andrew Jimenez, laughs while talking about how Johnny would continuously check the scores when they played against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Described as having a smile that lights up a room, Johnny is shy at first, but becomes the life of the party once he’s comfortable with his surroundings.
Johnny also has distal arthrogryposis, a condition that can include bent fingers and toes, overlapping fingers, and a hand where all the fingers are angled outward; and scoliosis, where the spine curves sideways.
Already having some surgeries and another scheduled for his hands, Johnny also attends the Permian Basin Rehab Center, where his hard work and positive attitude have gained the attention of staff, leading to his selection as this year’s Permian Basin Rehabilitation Center Poster Child.
Johnny does not see himself as physically different from his peers, only that he is a bit shorter than his kindergarten classmates at Compass Academy Charter School.
His parents said he’s not the type of person to let something stop him from his goals.
“He’s a normal kid living his life,” Jimenez said. “He’s a fighter, he’s stubborn and he’s not going to ever give up.”
IT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE WORK
The first time Johnny attended the Rehab Center, it was for sessions for his older brother Evan, who also has distal arthrogryposis.
Not fully knowing the extent of Evan’s work at that time, Johnny just knew his brother was getting to play with toys in the back; enough to make him also want to attend therapy.
Johnny eventually began sessions for both physical and occupational therapy. Physical therapy focuses on helping improve functions and occupational therapy helps in areas of daily activities such as bathing, and dressing, to more advanced areas like operating a computer.
Therapists work with patients and set goals. Emily Selvera, who works with Johnny as his physical therapist at the Rehab Center, said benchmarks range from helping with bending his knees, to running to build leg strength. All of which are important skills in baseball.
“He doesn’t see it as he can’t do all those things,” Selvera said. “We let him lead and make it therapeutic. He’s always so much fun and he’s so happy.”
Since starting therapy, Johnny has had to take time off for surgeries — a halo-gravity traction for his scoliosis — and another scheduled for his hands.
Those breaks have never stopped Johnny. Laura Lee, Johnny’s mother, said the staff has been great at letting her know his progress and said the rehab center has been crucial in helping her son.
“They explain to you what their goals are for him and what they’re going to work on and how they work on it,” she said. “It’s just an awesome place and they clearly love what they do.”
Working in the oil field, Jimenez said Lee primarily takes Johnny to appointments, but sees improvement. One of the things the Rehab Center worked on with Johnny was alternating his steps as he learned to walk upstairs.
Johnny was quick to find his rhythm and excelled at the task.
“Now that he’s alternating his steps, we have to stop him from wanting to jump off the stairs,” Jimenez said.
LIFE IN THE SPOTLIGHT
As the Permian Basin Rehab Center poster child, Johnny will be the face of the organization and participate in multiple events.
On Dec. 2, he lit the Pilot Club of Odessa’s Community Christmas Tree at Optimist Park. He will also be involved in the Rehab Center’s annual Telethon, which raises funds to provide therapy services to patients regardless of their financial situation.
The Crystal Ball Foundation also supports the Permian Basin Rehab Center.
Lee said it took little to convince Johnny to agree.
“He got so excited,” she said. “He has this little shy smile that comes out and he gets happy.”
Stardom hasn’t gone to Johnny’s head, Lee said, as he still focuses on his favorite subjects at school such as art, technology and physical education. When he goes to his sessions, everyone knows his name as they say hello to him, and he smiles and waves back.
Going to the Rehab Center doesn’t feel like work to Johnny. He describes it as going to play with a bunch of adults who just happen to also be his friends. For his parents, that mindset has been instrumental to his growth.
“It’s more like a fun center instead of a rehab center and at the same time he’s learning,” Jimenez said. “He’ll come home with new things he’s been learning and show it off.”