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Former Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson Fighting Stage 5 Kidney Disease

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Bernadeia Johnson spent most of her 62 years educating. The former superintendent of schools in Minneapolis has been educated over the past three years on matters of life, and of people that mean the most.

In all, Johnson spent 15 years in the Minneapolis Public Schools system, five as superintendent for the district, working with teachers.

"We didn't always agree on everything, you know. We had some challenges, but I think ultimately they recognized that, though I was a tough leader I was also a compassionate leader. I led with empathy and I led with love," Johnson said.

But it is the students that grabbed her heart, and her concern for what is today now years removed, are the same.

"Kids can not live in violence. It creates trauma in families and it makes it really hard for students to come to school and to learn," Johnson said.

She has seen much since coming to Minneapolis with her husband, also in education. But in 2019, he died of prostate cancer.

"We were married for 42 years, college sweethearts," she said. "He was such a loving man, and everybody loved him."

Shortly thereafter, she got some bad news of her own.

"I was diagnosed with kidney disease. And I'm in stage 5," she said.

Both of Johnson's kidneys are failing. You need just one healthy to survive, and that is what she is hoping comes from a donor.

"I had to sit down (when I heard)," Marcia Watt said. "It hurt, it really hurt because she's a good person."

Watt is one of several teachers who Johnson mentored who are now rallying around their former boss, a mentor who admits that she could have taken better care of herself as she pursued her career.

"If you have high blood pressure and you're not necessarily eating right and not exercising, and diabetes, those things are because of sometimes poor eating habits, liquor excess and high stress," Johnson said.

That's led to the advice she now passes along, particularly to female leaders.

"Every person that I talk to who's in a high-stress situation, especially women leaders, I say to them, 'When's the last time you've been to the doctor? What did you listen to?'"

Her goals have changed to keep on living a life that includes her grandchildren.

"I think what scares me is not being here to see my young grandsons graduate from high school and college and become productive citizens," she said.

So now she waits for what she hopes will be a kidney donor, comforted because all those students and teachers whose lives she touched are now her angels, and they are hoping, praying and comforting -- because they believe in her.

"If she was sitting right here, I would tell her I love her," Watt said. "I would tell her to hold onto her faith, that God still works miracles."

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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