Gene Johnson

Age: 63
Save Date: 9/11/2002
Activity: At home
On September 11, 2002, Gene Johnson had just finished laying 30 rows of fresh sod in his front yard and was watering them when he collapsed. A timely call from his daughter, Stacey, inquiring about her dad came at the same moment. This prompted Gene's wife, Yvonne, to go and see what he was doing and discovered him laying face down on the driveway.

"When she saw me laying there she called 9-1-1," Gene explains. Yvonne was relieved when a New Brighton police officer arrived just a few minutes later, followed soon after by a second squad car, which was equipped with the city's only automated external defibrillator (AED). They tried to revive Gene with CPR for another few minutes but that wasn't working, so they attached the AED to him. It took two shocks from the defibrillator, but Gene's heartbeat was restored, and he was transported by ambulance to the hospital. After quadruple bypass surgery to remove blockages in his heart, and extensive electrophysiological testing that ruled out any rhythm abnormalities, Gene was able to carefully return to all of his favorite activities except one--he stopped smoking the occasional cigar.

"There's no appreciable damage from the cardiac arrest," Gene explains. "I figure I've got 20 years ahead of me!"

Gene, who is a retired fifth grade teacher, has returned to playing golf (walking the course), playing his fiddle at nursing homes, and playing with his grandchildren. But this happy ending doesn't end with Gene. Gene, his neighbors on Fredeen Court and the New Brighton Safety Commission organized the "Have a Heart Walk" to raise funds for the city to buy more defibrillators. The walk raised more than $6,000. Soon after organizations like the New Brighton-Mounds View Rotary, the Twin Cities North Chamber, the New Brighton Lions, and others became involved in the fundraising effort.

"Next thing we knew, we were able to purchase nine more AEDs," Gene explains. Those AEDs placed in police cars, fire and rescue vehicles, and in public places like the Family Services Center have saved three more lives! In addition, the Medtronic Foundation contributed a $10,000 grant to help train citizens to use the AEDs.

"It's amazing how these things can snowball," Gene says. Gene is still working to spread the word about the importance of having AEDs readily available. He appeared with Allina Health System's "Heart Safe Communities" program to testify in Washington, D.C. in April 2003 for the American Heart Association's lobby day.

"I was born again to be Mr. Defibrillator, I guess," says Gene. But Gene's not complaining about his new-found role.

"Each day is more crackling now--when I wake up, it is a wonderful day, and I try my best to live it as though it's special, because it is."

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