Kyrstyn Johnson says her 8-month-old son Mayson Michael "just didn't wake up" one morning, in a death that she says has changed her forever

By Char Adams
September 25, 2018 11:19 AM
Credit: Courtesy Kyrstyn Johnson

Kyrstyn Johnson, of Boise, Idaho, says she felt her family was complete after she welcomed a baby boy, Mayson Michael Johnson, last year. Now, the 21-year-old mother of three is struggling to pick up the pieces after her son died suddenly in his sleep at 8 months old.

Johnson says she remembers the events of April 16 like it was just yesterday. She and a friend had gone to the DMV that morning, leaving Mayson with his father, 23-year-old Trevian Johnson, when she got a frantic call from her mother around 9 a.m.

“My mom goes, ‘Kyrstyn, you need to get home. It’s Mayson, there’s an emergency with Mayson,’ ” she recalls. “My first reaction is that it must have been some accident. I didn’t assume it was this big medical emergency.

“She goes, ‘Trevian went to wake [Mayson] up and he was unresponsive, he was not breathing. This is very serious, he has not taken a single breath or heartbeat since the [paramedics] arrived.’ ”

Kyrstyn Johnson with son’s casket
| Credit: Courtesy Kyrstyn Johnson

Johnson rushed home to find police and medical officials at her house. She says she saw the ambulance carrying her son driving away as she pulled up. She and her family jumped in their car and went to the hospital.

“I ran into the emergency room. I knew what they were going to tell me. The doctor looked at me and said, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” Johnson says. “I was immediately sick, I started throwing up on a trash can. I felt every piece of my soul crack. They took me into the hospital room that he was in, and I remember touching him and it was the coldest thing I have ever felt.”

Johnson held Mayson and wrapped his cold body in blankets. She sat with him and cried.

“He wasn’t this warm baby who cuddled me anymore,” she says. “I could feel this part of my soul just didn’t exist anymore. He was lifeless,” she says.

Mayson Michael (left) with Kyrstyn Johnson
| Credit: Courtesy Kyrstyn Johnson

After several tests, a coroner determined that Mayson died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which came as a shock to Johnson because SIDS cases are least common among babies over 6 months old.

Over the next few months, Johnson says she felt numb as she worked to get through the days with her 2-year-old twin daughters, Lilah Nicole and Violet Ann Johnson. They held a funeral for the boy and honored him in a photo shoot on what would have been his first birthday.

“My right to raise Mayson was taken from me. He wasn’t sick. He was a perfectly healthy baby. It’s heartbreaking. There was no reason for him to leave me,” she tells PEOPLE through tears.

Kyrstyn Johnson
| Credit: Megan Nutter/Lil' Lemon Photography

“He had been here long enough to make a big impact. He just didn’t wake up. I promised my son I’d protect him from all things, but I couldn’t protect him from death.”

Now, Johnson, who first shared her story with Love What Matters, says she is speaking out to let other parents know that it is okay to talk about the painful loss of a child. In the wake of Mayson’s death, Johnson says she had little access to adequate mental health care, and says grieving parents should be able to receive treatment in the wake of such traumatic experiences.

“It took a very heavy toll on my mental health. I thought I was being strong, but in reality, I wasn’t coping. A couple months ago, it got to the point where I could only think about being with my son and I didn’t feel safe. It just became too much. I tried to seek treatment, something more invasive than just counseling,” she says.

“I decided to try and find a healing center that focuses on trauma and grief and how to get through these things, but unfortunately with the insurance I have…that’s been my biggest hurdle, finding an appropriate and healthy way to grieve when I have very limited resources. That’s why I’m sharing my story. For me, the only thing I know how to do — because I can’t get the treatment I need — is to just talk about it.”

Johnson told Love What Matters that, in the midst of her pain, she is working to “end the stigma of infant and pregnancy loss.”

“To show other bereaved parents they are not alone,” she said. “Everyone says they are sorry and they are there for you, but time moves so quickly and those people move on. Yet you feel stuck and alone, so very alone.”

The grieving mom says she still experiences that loneliness. And even after five months, the pain of losing her son is still fresh.

“Mayson was this very bright child. He would follow his twin sisters around and always wanted to be awake and active,” Johnson recalls of her son.

“[My favorite thing about him] was his soul. He was smiling from the moment he was born. We had a mother-son connection, we had this bond. He was just so happy. Now I feel empty, but I know I will be there to hold him again. “