In the year since Charles Johnson IV tragically lost his wife just hours after she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, he’s had unconditional support from his family and friends.
On April 12 2016, Kira Johnson — a healthy 39-year-old who was already a mom to the couple’s 19-month-old son — walked into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for a scheduled C-section — and would never walk out.
“We were expecting this to be a walk in the park,” Charles, 36, an entrepreneur, tells PEOPLE. “We thought we’d go in, high five, spend a couple days in the hospital and come home with two little boys.”
But just one hour after Kira gave birth to their son Langston — and introduced him to his big brother — things started to take a turn for the worse.
According to Charles, his wife started to suffer severe complications that resulted from the C-section she had at 2:30 that afternoon. Sitting by her bedside in the recovery room, he says he first noticed blood in her catheter.
“We didn’t understand the gravity, but we just knew something was wrong,” his mother, TV judge Glenda Hatchett, tells PEOPLE. “You could tell by her color. She said she was in pain.”
But Kira still managed to smile through that pain.
“She never complained,” says Charles. “She was so tough.”
Hours after her alarming symptoms began, Kira went into surgery and it was discovered that she had massive internal bleeding caused by a lacerated bladder that occurred during her C-section.
At 2:22 a.m., Kira died, leaving her grieving husband and two sons behind.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” Charles says. “We had an entire life to live together.”
A week after Kira died, Charles and his boys moved from L.A. back to his hometown of Atlanta to live with his mother, who has been there for her son and grandsons every day since their devastating loss.
• For much more on Judge Glenda Hatchett and Charles Johnson’s story, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
“Saying I’m proud of him doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel,” says Hatchett. “What people have to understand is that as much as I love him and as much as our family and our extended village loves him, this is really a very difficult journey that he walks alone.
“I can never really even begin to fully understand the depth of his pain and his grief. He lost the love of his life — he lost his wife.”
On March 22 of this year, Charles filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, claiming that staff didn’t respond to Kira’s symptoms or her bleeding in a timely manner.
Although the hospital has not yet issued a formal response to the lawsuit, in a statement to PEOPLE, Cedars-Sinai calls Kira’s death “a tragedy” and says that Charles and Hatchett “are demonstrating important leadership in raising awareness of preventable maternal deaths.”
Johnson and his mom have also setup a GoFundMe page that is raising funds to help families who have been through similar situations.
In the midst of finding justice for his wife, he and Hatchett are lobbying in support of new legislation to increase reviews of maternal deaths, which have more than doubled since 1990. Their hope is that further study of these fatalities will prevent other deaths in the future.
“This will be the most important case I’ll ever be involved in,” says Hatchett, 66.
‘It Takes a Village’
Charles and his boys are surrounded by love in the wake of their loss.
“Without my family and everyone supporting me I don’t know how I could do this,” says Charles. “I take it day by day.”
Charles says he has had the same goal every day since losing Kira: “Wake up, make mommy proud, repeat.”
Videos of Kira skydiving, racing cars and traveling the world are constantly played on the family computer and poster-sized pictures of her are scattered throughout the house. He wants to make sure little Charles still has a connection with his mom and hopes that Langston, who will never know his mom, can still paint a beautiful image in his mind of who she was.
“Every single day Kira would say to me, ‘What’s your plan?’ ” says Charles. “I’d tell her it’s the same thing I do every day — get up and start my day. But now when I go to bed every night it’s all I think about. What would she do in this situation? What’s my plan?”
• Watch the full episode of People’s Features- Judge Glenda Hatchett: Our Family’s Crusade to Stop Maternal Death, available now online on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the PEN app on your favorite mobile or connected TV device.
The couple, who met in 2005, always talked about raising two men who would change the world. Charles says that although she’s no longer here, that goal won’t change.
“I think Kira would be pleased,” he says. “She would be grateful for the people that have stepped forward and really just rallied around us.”
Adds Hatchett: “She’s looking down at Charles and the boys and is really happy and proud of what Charles is doing for their sons.”