War Medals To Help Ill Girl With Her Fight

June 02, 1991|By June Kurtz | June Kurtz,Contributing writer

While American and allied troops were off in the desert fighting to free a ravaged land, a little girl sat in her New Windsor home wagingher own war against kidney disease.

The war in the gulf is over now, but for 8-year-old Christina M. Johnson, who was diagnosed in February with two failed kidneys, the battle has just begun.

But Christy and her family may be getting some welcomed help.

Chris H. Russo, 37, and Mike L. Morrison, 36, designed an "Operation Desert Storm" medallion to commemorate the overseas battle. All of the proceeds will go toward Christy's medical expenses.

"We finally did something good," said Morrison, a Manchester resident, referring to America's role in the gulf war. "Let's take it another step."

Christy's father, Garry W. Johnson, 35, said his friend's generosity came as a surprise.

"It's a shock to me," he said. "I didn't know Chris was going to dothat. He's a good man."

Russo explained one reason the men decided to give the money to the Johnsons: Wars are fought, he said, so children like Christy are "able to be healthy and free."

Morrison said he understands what it's like to have an ill child. His 15-year-old son has cerebral palsy.

Before the Johnson family receives any money, Russo and Morrison must recoup almost $16,000that they spent to produce and advertise the 24-karat gold-plated medallions.

The medallions have been advertised in Carroll and Washington county newspapers, as well as Stars and Stripes and Veteran's View magazines, Russo said.

About 265 coins have been sold since February at a cost of $24.95 each, Russo said. Since the coins cost themen about $16 apiece, nearly 360 more of the initial 1,020 coins must be sold.

Meanwhile, the Johnsons are waiting to see if Christy's34-year-old mother, Darlene, is a suitable kidney donor. Doctors would like to do the transplant this summer.

Until then, Christy undergoes peritoneal dialysis four times a day. In the 30-minute at-home procedure, waste and excess fluids are removed from Christy's body through an intravenous tube.

Russo, a Westminster resident, said theidea for a war commemorative came as a result of the widespread sales of "trinkets" and other war memorabilia.

"They were charging a lot of money for stuff," he said. "Yet, it wasn't really good quality."

Russo decided on a medallion after receiving a mailing from the United States Mint. A coin is durable and small and can be passed down among generations, he said.

After he made some initial sketches,Russo brought his plans to a Baltimore designer, who drew the final version.

The brass coins were engraved by Theo Swiam in Lancaster,Pa., and were taken to Electro-Chemical in York, Pa., for gold plating.

When he created the original sketches, Russo said he wanted toinclude items that people would associate with the Iraqi conflict.

During the war, he said, the media's attention was often focused onthe number of aircraft and missions flown.

The coin depicts an advancing soldier, to represent the bravery and strength of the troops,Russo said. A banner reads: "We support our troops." And a waving flag signifies freedom for all.

The coin also pictures a map "to show the area of dispute" and a Patriot missile to illustrate the role technology played in the 43-day military campaign, Russo said.

Russo said the men did not design the medallion to become millionaires, they simply were trying to help somebody at home.

"We don't want totake advantage of anybody," Morrison said. "It's just trying to do something nice."

Darlene said the men have succeeded.

"The support is great," she said, choking back tears. "I don't think we could have made it this far without the support from family and friends."

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