YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Sometimes heroes are created spontaneously by that one act, big or small, that turns into a life changer.
On Dec. 11, 2011, a woman died in a crash at the intersection of Route 45 and Route 165 in Mahoning County. She left behind a 5-year-old daughter and a friend names Joanna Struharick.
On that very same day, 15 miles away in Lordstown, Doug Gough collided head on with a dump truck. He was drunk and stoned at the time, like he had been for years. He was hospitalized and survived.
“A social worker tells me that she spoke with my family and they are not coming to get me. And she is going to give me a taxi cab voucher to a place called the Rescue Mission. I was mangled. I was smashed to smithereens. I was broke, physically, emotionally. I was dying,” Gough said.
A pastor at the Rescue Mission convinced him to accept Jesus Christ and Gough was saved.
“I woke up one day and I knew that I needed a Bible,” Gough said.
So Gough ended up at Boardman’s Family Christian Store, which three years ago was near the Southern Park Mall. Also in the bookstore that same day was Joanna Struharick. She was picking up a Bible for the daughter her friend left behind.
“I heard this man talking very loud. And I am like ‘who is that?’ He was screaming through the store,” Struharick said. “And I asked him what happened to him. He had a neck brace on, his arm was in a brace and he just looked very sad.”
Struharick helped Gough pick out his Bible.
“She had the kindest eyes I have ever seen,” Gough said.
They then swapped stories of the two accidents on the same day: The one that killed her friend and the one that almost killed him. Struharick said Gough started crying.
“And I started getting so mad. And I was saying why would God do that? Why would God take a beautiful Christian lady with a 5-year-old daughter and leave me here? I am the worst person that I know,” Gough said.
“And I told him that is not for him to figure out. That God is real and you just have to believe in him and he will take care of you and work everything out,” Struharick said.
Gough said he was embarrassed and walked away, but Struharick said she wanted to make sure he left with something that could help him.
“And the guy at the counter at the bookstore said ‘the lady you were just talking to bought this Bible for you and she paid to have your name engraved on it and she told me to tell you God bless you’,” Gough said.
He straightened out his life. He joined the staff at the Rescue Mission and for the next two-and-a-half years, he told his story to whoever would listen. The story always ended with an angel named Joanna.
“And I am just full of life. I go through this healing process, I just start giving everything I have,” Struharick said.
“When I gave my testimony, I would say ‘whose Joanna are you going to be?’,” Gough said.
Eventually, Gough’s story made its way to Greenford Christian Church, where Joanna attended, as did Doug on occasion. On June 8, two-and-a-half years after their encounter at the bookstore, while giving his testimony to the congregation, Minister Sean Kelly surprised Gough. There really was a Joanna.
The pair’s hug lasted 23 seconds.
“There they are. Those are the eyes,” Gough said when he saw Struharick.
WYTV 33 News anchor Stan Boney watched the video with Gough and Struharick in a conference room at the Rescue Mission, after which they took him to a new computer room financed through the $20,000 Struharick has raised through her group called Hearts for Hope. She started it shortly after her second meeting with Doug.
The two believers are now friends, linked forever by a chance meeting and a Bible.