Student Spotlight: Tiffany Johnston

Tiffany Johnston in the snow, crouched next to a dog

Towards the end of her 2L year, Tiffany Johnston received some unexpected but welcome news—she was pregnant. 

“I’ve been told since I was 16 that it would be nearly impossible for me to have a child naturally,” Johnston said. “We originally thought it might have been cancer, but she turned out to be a baby!”

Johnston had big plans for her final year of law school, including a semester abroad at Utrecht in the Netherlands. However, after a series of events led her to undergo an amniocentesis procedure (a process where amniotic fluid is extracted from around the fetus), Johnston was forced to change her plans

“Although it was an unnecessary procedure, it had a silver lining where we found out she had Medium-chain acyl-coenzyme A dehydrogenase deficiency, or MCADD for short.” Johnston explained. “MCADD is a very, very rare condition where she is not able to process fats, meaning she has to eat every 2-3 hours or risk seizures, liver problems or brain damage, among other concerns.” 

After the diagnosis, Johnston was labeled a high-risk pregnancy and ultimately placed on bedrest. Despite the obstacles, she was determined to continue her law studies as much as possible. 

“The professors and staff were amazing and accommodating,” Johnston said, calling out a group of students who came to her house to study with her. “Their company during that time meant more to me than I can ever let them know.” 

Baby Evie pictured in a "CWRU Law" onesie, wearing a yellow bow on her head

“Evangeline Victoria Koustis (Evie) came unexpectedly on Oct. 19, at just 3 pounds and 5 ounces,” Johnston said. “I was able to hold her for maybe thirty seconds before they took her to the NICU, she had a trans-esophageal fistula and needed to be rushed into surgery.” 

In those early days, doctors also discovered that Evie had three holes in her heart, complications with her kidney and that her MCADD was proving to be more challenging than expected. With support from the law school community, Johnston managed to keep up with her studies.

“During those first few weeks, students sent food and encouragement and professors worked with me on projects,” Johnston explained. “Some students visited us in the hospital and brought her sweet gifts, checking to make sure I was maintaining my sanity.” 

Just after Thanksgiving, as Evie was beginning to breathe on her own, she tested positive for both COVID and a rhinovirus. 

“These were the longest and hardest 21 days of our lives,” Johnston said. “She went back on breathing equipment, crying and struggling for every breath of air. We were moved to an isolated room and could just sit there with her, holding her when we were allowed. So many people were praying and sending good thoughts, and we greatly appreciated it.”

On Feb. 5, over 100 days after her birth, Evie was finally released from the NICU and able to come home. 

“I am so appreciative of everyone in the law school for the prayers, thoughts, help and accommodations we had while Evie was in the hospital,” Johnston said. “We are so grateful for everyone who has asked about her and helped our family out during this difficult time!”

As she cares for her daughter at home, Johnston continues to work on her coursework remotely. When asked if she has any advice for current and prospective law students, Johnston reflected upon her own experience. 

“Throughout law school, I got out of a terrible 11 year relationship. I lost my best friend and the person who raised me, my grandmother, my second year. I fell in love and got married. I had a terrible pregnancy with a slew of complications. I took a final in my daughter’s hospital room, not knowing if she was going to survive. I say all of this to say: all of this happened while I kept up with my readings and assignments. If I can do it, you absolutely can make it through!”

“Never stop trying and keep a smile on your face—you can’t choose your situation, but you can choose how you respond to it and to be happy.”