Rodney Johnson is as active as they come—so when he started getting short of breath, not sleeping well and feeling fatigued by mid-afternoon, he chalked it up to “old age.” The 60-year-old was working hard one afternoon in October 2018 at his business, Johnson Timber Company in West Point, when he had a hard time catching his breath. He denied needing medical attention but his son, who was working with him, made him promise he’d go to the doctor if it happened again. “I shook his hand and promised him I would,” Rodney said. Later that afternoon it happened again as Rodney checked on a duck hunting spot. “I could hardly get my breath trying to walk back up the hill,” he said. “A promise is a promise, so I went to the outpatient clinic, and they sent me to the hospital.” Tests at North Mississippi Medical Center-West Point’s Emergency Department didn’t show the culprit, but doctors were concerned enough to send him to NMMC-Tupelo for further testing.
Rodney flunked a series of heart tests in Tupelo. “They wanted to admit me to the hospital, but I told them we were leaving for the Grand Canyon the next day and had already pre-paid for the trip,” he said. “The doctor said, ‘I don’t want to alarm you, but you’re not okay. I strongly suggest you don’t go.” Cardiac catheterization revealed that six blood vessels to his heart were blocked. NMMC cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Vishal Sachdev performed open heart surgery the next morning. “If I had gone ahead on vacation, I probably wouldn’t have made it back—not walking anyway,” he said.
After a week in the hospital, Rodney went home a new man. He started training the following May and competed in the Prairie Arts Festival 5K that September. “I’ve changed my diet. I’m running over three miles several days a week and exercising at the Wellness Center on alternate days. I’m trying to get to the 10K mark,” Rodney says. “I’m doing everything I can.”