SSM Health hosts classic car parade for recovering COVID-19 patient


Photo by James Tananan Kamnuedkhun

Matt Johnson waves to cars as they drive past his window in support.

Alexis Montgomery, Editor-in-Chief

Matt Johnson sat in an SSM Health hospital room on Sunday and waved as classic cars drove past his window, honking and revving engines to encourage his speedy recovery from COVID-19. 

Johnson is known as a racing legend in the St. Louis area, and has even been inducted into the World Wide Technology Raceway’s Drag Racing Hall of Fame

“He has a car shop in Saint Louis where he’s worked on a lot of cars over the years,” Greg Neunuebel, public relations consultant at SSM, said. “He made a name for himself in drag racing. In 1990, he won the International Hot Rod Racing Championship.”

Neunuebel said that Johnson has been at SSM for about two weeks, and is on the mend. 

“He’s having a hard time right now and we just wanted to do something to boost his spirits to let him know a lot of people are thinking about him and he’s on our hearts, so that’s what we’re doing here today,” Neunuebel said. “You know he can’t work on cars like he used to so when you get old and you lose your livelihood like that, that’s a tough thing.

“It’s a wonderful display of those who care so deeply for him.”

Cars line up as they get ready to drive past Matt Johnson at SSM Health in Saint Charles. (James Tananan Kamnuedkhun)

After finding out he was a racer, Heather Stock, a palliative care nurse at SSM Health, helped make the parade happen after speaking to Johnson’s daughter. 

“I do family meetings with patients, and during the meeting I found out that he owned race cars and this is what he did,” Stock said. “Part of the meeting is I talk about people’s goals and what they look forward to after and that’s when the race cars came up. 

“Afterwards his daughter sent me a message asking me if it was possible that we could have a parade for him, so I said I would reach out and see what I could do and that’s when I contacted Greg. So we went from there and got it to happen.”

Originally, the parade was going to be a surprise for Johnson, but his family let him in on the secret so he had something to look forward to.  

“I was in the room when his daughter told him and he just broke down he was so excited,” Stock said. “He was crying and I was crying, it was just the coolest thing to see him just be so excited to see the people that he knows that are coming around him.”

Stock said she thinks the parade has already raised Johnson’s spirits.

“Just look at him,” Stock said as she pointed to the window where Johnson was waving. 

Dinetta Johnson, the daughter of Matt Johnson, said she got the classic car parade idea after seeing drive by parades for birthdays during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I mentioned it to Heather and she said ‘okay let me do a few things,’” Dinetta said. “She called me bright and early the next morning and said ‘I hope you’re not mad at me, but I have the hospital PR involved, I have Channel 2 news’ and she just rolled with it.”

James Tananan Kamnuedkhun


After Facetiming her father, Dinetta said he was excited about the whole parade. 

“He was in tears the whole time. Every time I call him he’s in tears,” Dinetta said.

To get the message out about the parade, Dinetta messaged a few people in the area and it spread from there. She said a few hundred people turned out for the event. 

Neunuebel also contacted the World Wide Technology Raceway about the parade, who then made a post about it

Stock said this is just a part of their job at SSM Health, to encourage patients and help them along their path to recovery.