St. Helens man reflects on day he met Nelson Mandela

St. Helens man reflects on day he met Nelson Mandela »Play Video
Ken Johnson

ST. HELENS, Ore. - Take one step into Ken Johnson's home and you see just how deeply his time in South Africa impacted him.

The trained paramedic volunteered a year of his life in 2003 to help fight the AIDS epidemic that was ravaging the country.

"In that one area alone, seven out of ten people were HIV positive," Johnson said.

Johnson worked closely with children, trying to fight not just the AIDS virus, but all the misconceptions that came with it.

"At the time they thought if you touched an AIDS patient you would get AIDS yourself," Johnson said.

He admits it was a losing battle, until one day when a national icon walked through the door.

"My most important and lasting memory of him was how he went in and saw each patient, and touched each patient, and spoke to each patient," Johnson said.

Johnson says he was moved to tears to see how Nelson Mandela interacted with his patients, knowing his example could help breakdown the myths associated with AIDS.

Now Johnson is mourning Mandela's death, but in keeping with the South African culture he came to love, he's also trying to celebrate the legacy he leaves behind.

"South Africans never say people are dead or dying, they always say they are passing. They celebrate life," Johnson said.