The fight of her life: Ronda Kopatich-Johnson

Ronda Kopatich-Johnson was my children’s teacher aide last year in preschool, and my children went gaga over her. My children came home with new words every single day. I could easily identify the words that came from Ronda, because of the signing style–and that always made me smile. They ask about Ronda every day, and talk about stories she told them such as her trip to Hawaii. She is gentle, loving, and firm but so incredibly sweet and giving. I could list a million positive adjectives about her, and I still wouldn’t get to the heart of who she is. So let me share a story.

Last year, my children’s school hosted a regional basketball tournament. The school gym is straight out of a movie–it is old, with a wooden, low ceiling that volleyball players use to their advantage during matches. The bleachers shake whenever people climb them, and reverberate with amazing energy when fans cheer. During the tournament, I realized my older daughter was nowhere to be seen, and I figured she was probably in the gym basement, playing with other children. I walked down to check on her, and saw a sight I’ll never forget.

About 15, maybe 20, children–both deaf and hearing–were seated in a circle. Ronda was explaining the rules for Duck, Duck, Goose to the captivated children. I watched from a distance as she taught them and then joined in on the fun.

Nobody asked her to do this, but Ronda knew the children were in need of activities after being cooped up in the gym all day long. Never mind that she already worked with preschoolers all week, and this was her time off.  After a while, I asked if she was all right, if she needed me to get the other parents so that she could watch the game; she was, and is, a renowned basketball player, and I knew how important basketball is to her. She shook her head and said she was just fine, that she was happy to help parents, including me, get a little respite.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this amazing deed on her part, because upstairs, there were hundreds of parents enjoying the games, clueless to the fact that one woman had chosen to go downstairs and entertain children who weren’t hers.

That, my friends, is what a true role model is.

Ronda is now fighting the harshest battle of her life: cancer. Since she is not covered by her wife’s health insurance, they have to pay for her medical expenses out of pocket. She was in the hospital for more than a month, days away from death. She is now home, and slowly but surely fighting her way back to “normal” (whatever that is). Her family is amazingly devoted to her recovery, especially her wife, Kelly.

Maybe you could spare a dollar or two, and help. Go to and read more there.

My children are really looking forward to having Ronda back at school. I am, too.

Update: The donation website is now inactive. Ronda passed away on July 18, 2013, and fought to the very end.

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  1. Virginia L. Beach says:

    As a cancer survivor myself, and also having watched my mother succumb to the disease, I am well aware of how grueling the treatment and recovery is…and also how expensive it gets. I’m one of those self-employed people struggling to afford a health insurance policy that will cover my such expenses should my own cancer come back. I do hope individuals will consider donating a few dollars, and wish Ronda all the best with her battle.

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