Aidan Johnson, 13, has severe scoliosis. This week, he underwent surgery to correct the curvature of his spine. To motivate Aidan to get through surgery and take his first steps, the boy's father bought him Donovan Mitchell's DON Issue #1 sneakers.
Courtesy Joseph Johnson

Donovan Mitchell's Spider-Man sneakers helped one young fan get through surgery and take his first steps

by Aaron Falk

When Donovan Mitchell found out he was getting his own shoe, he imagined kids from all walks of life being able to hoop in them, mimicking their favorite player on a basketball court. And with the adidas D.O.N. Issue #1 hitting stores earlier this month, the Utah Jazz guard’s sneakers have surely seen plenty of backyard dunks and playground game-winners already.

Few highlights, however, can match Aidan Johnson’s slow steps, one red-and-blue sneaker in front of the other, as he walked away from his hospital bed on Friday morning.

“Just seeing him walk again,” Aidan’s father, Joseph Johnson said, “was amazing.”

Aidan was born two months premature, and with that came complications. Before he even left the NICU, he was diagnosed with infantile scoliosis. Over the next years, there were other developmental issues to address, some that have been diagnosed (autism) and some that remain undiagnosed to this day. Doctors once thought the boy would never speak or walk.

“He’s beaten all these odds,” his father said.

On game nights at the Johnson house in Spring Creek, Nevada, everyone gathers around the TV to watch the Utah Jazz.

“My kids love basketball,” Joseph said. “We love watching Donovan and the team.”

Aidan tolerates it. The 13-year-old has been to games at Vivint Smart Home Arena. There, he loves to chant and sing and soak up the atmosphere. At home, he is in and out of the room, playing with his Legos and figurines, singing and making his family laugh.

“It’s hard to get him to sit down unless we’re there in person,” Joseph said.

But moving has been more difficult for the teenager lately.

“We were watching the scoliosis and he was getting progressively worse,” his father said.

Doctors tried a number of treatments. They put him in a body cast to try to help straighten his spine. But by age 13, Aidan’s spine had bent so severely, a 100-degree curve, that the doctors at Shriners Hospital said he required surgery. On June 11, surgeons gave Aidan a halo, metal band attached to his head by six screws. The ring allowed doctors to take some of the weight off the boy’s neck, allowing the spine and the nerves to stretch and lengthen.

Aidan still needed another surgery, though. On Tuesday, the teenager underwent spinal fusion, a seven-hour procedure.

Sitting in the hospital, watching his son endure all of this, Joseph wanted to do something.

“I wanted to give him some motivation when he was able to get on his feet and walk,” the father said. “He’s always been a fan of superheroes.”

An idea came to the Jazz fan and father.

“I thought getting him some of Donovan’s Amazing Spider-Man shoes would motivate him,” Joseph said. “And it sure did.”

He gave Aidan a pair of size 6 sneakers and the boy clutched them in his hospital bed for a day before doctors said he was ready to try to walk.

“As a parent, you want your kids to emulate someone who has good moral character, not just athletic ability,” Johnson said. “Donovan’s been a great role model. I don’t feel bad at all spending a little money on his shoes.

“I accidentally bought myself a pair, too, and now my other kids have picked out their favorite colorways.”

On Friday, Joseph helped his boy out of the hospital bed and the boy took his first steps after the procedure. The walk was short, about 40 feet. But it meant the world to his family.

“Just seeing him walk again was amazing,” Joseph said. “He’s such a special kid. I wish more people had the chance to interact with people like him because he just loves life. He’s always happy, in spite of everything he’s been through.”

Mitchell enjoyed it too.

“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!” Mitchell wrote after seeing a video of Aidan’s first steps on Twitter. “For him to be killing it without the walker is amazing!! I see you buddy! You have a fan in me … and I’ll make sure you have multiple shoes to walk around in”.

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