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Henrico cancer survivor surprises teachers with gifts, hugs: ’It never broke her spirit’

Henrico cancer survivor surprises teachers with gifts, hugs: ’It never broke her spirit’
Posted at 5:33 PM, May 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-07 18:32:09-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- The Johnson and Brackett families filled a trunk with gifts outside of Henry Ward Elementary in Henrico County on Friday.

Gregory Johnson and his family prepared to thank the staff that helped his granddaughter through a tough time.

Last fall, doctors diagnosed 11-year-old Kayla Johnson-Brackett with large b-cell lymphoma cancer.

“I saw the teachers and how they meant so much to Kayla,” Gregory explained. “She lost her hair, she lost her strength, but they kept her spirit up.”

To help keep the fifth-grader thriving during exhaustive chemotherapy treatments, her teachers never stopped caring.

“They would stay for hours and talk to her, they would send her gifts, postcards, letters and an array of stuff,” Gregory stated.

On Friday afternoon, Kayla and her family surprised the staff with gift bags and hugs. Kayla received a large round of applause when she took off her ball cap to reveal her hair has since grown back.

Gregory Johnson, a Richmond Fire captain, told the teacher that he’s used to giving and not receiving.

“I want the world to know what you all did,” Gregory stated. “On Sundays, we get the call from the principal talking about the Henry D Ward Elementary School family. It’s truly a family and we are so blessed to be a part of your family. Thank you and I can’t thank you all enough.”

Kayla's cancer is now in remission, but her positivity never waned.

“It never broke her spirit at all,” said Kayla’s teacher, Erin Ewing. “She’s just been so positive and uplifting to everyone around her.”

There was no shortage of hugs or tears outside Ward Elementary. Each teacher received a glass placard that Ewing read aloud.

“My life is so blessed with some of the most amazing people. Thank you for being a part of my journey. From Kayla Johnson-Brackett and family,” the placard read.

“Thank you! You’re awesome. I loved having you in my class this year,” Ewing told Kayla followed by a generous hug.

Johnson has served with the Richmond Fire Department for 36 years and has plans to retire on June 1.