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When Gardening Gets Tough

July 13, 2020

*This article was re-printed from WakeMed Heart to Heart MagazineSubscribe Today!


An avid gardener, Johnny Johnson is a retired power lineman who is no stranger to heart disease. He’s been fighting it for more than 20 years – with several stents and a stroke already behind him. Earlier this year, his symptoms were just subtle enough that Johnny thought the way he was feeling was just a normal part of aging.

The garden is where Johnny and his wife of 35 years, Sherrill, spend most of their time – even in the colder months of January and February, which are when his symptoms began. While there’s not too much to do in the garden during the winter, they continued to spend time on garden maintenance and basic upkeep. But for Johnny, the work seemed to feel just a bit more difficult than usual.

“After 44 years as a power lineman, I thought my parts were just worn out. I didn’t feel much different – but now that I look back, I guess things that used to be easy for me that I’ve been doing forever just started to feel harder.”

Contacting the Cardiologist When Things Didn’t Seem Right

Fortunately for Johnny, his wife had a keen listening ear. He came back from the mailbox complaining of an unusual tightening in his throat. She noticed he was short of breath, too, and called his cardiologist, Dr. John Kelley, who promptly scheduled Johnny for a stress echo test and further evaluation. His results indicated his aortic valve was in bad shape and he had three major blockages. After consulting with cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Judson Williams, Johnny’s surgery was scheduled for two weeks later.

The Road to Recovery After Surgery

On March 3, 2020, Johnny had an aortic valve replacement and a triple bypass. After a six-night hospital stay, Johnny was discharged feeling great just as COVID-19 came on the scene in North Carolina. With cardiac rehab cancelled due to social distancing guidelines, Johnny took long walks with his wife and spent time outdoors in the garden. He had one in-person follow-up visit after surgery and another to have his staples removed – otherwise, he’s enjoyed several virtual visits (via telephone) with his doctors to make sure his recovery has gone smoothly.

“I’m very fortunate that between my wonderful wife and my garden, I have everything I need right here at home,” Johnny explains.

Johnny recalls decades of memories they’ve shared in their garden – watching their grandchildren (who are now grown) play in the backyard garden oasis. He credits many of their family’s happiest days to the garden, which includes seasonal veggies, flowers, ornamental plants, pollinators, as well as a water garden and pond area they built.

“I remember the grandkids splashing their feet in that pond and the beautiful sound of their giggles when the fish ‘kissed’ their feet. Gardening has kept us young, active and happy.”

Today, Johnny and Sherrill are thankful for both their garden and the exceptional care they received throughout their latest heart ‘adventure.’

“From my stress test to the day of surgery all the way through my recovery process, I felt so nurtured and reassured by Dr. Williams, Dr. Kelley and the team. My experience gets a ten out of ten rating! We are so blessed to have such amazing doctors and surgeons – I feel like they just removed my old, tired parts and put new ones in. I’m feeling great, getting stronger every day and am gradually building up my stamina in the garden.”


Learn More About the WakeMed Heart Center

For decades, the WakeMed Heart Center has been the top destination in the region for heart surgery. To learn more, take a virtual tourrequest an appointment with a surgeon – or stop by anytime. Our caring staff would love to meet you!