By SUSAN LYNCH
Have you ever met someone and instantly knew they had a story to tell? The faraway look in their eyes, the pep in their step, or even just the way they hold a conversation can give it away.
Well, if you ever meet Wayne Johnson you will know right away that he does indeed have a story to tell. Wayne has been in Estill County most all of his life. He was a military man and he served on the 4-duece mortar battalion until July of 1976 when his left leg was blown off in Korea.
After Wayne lost his leg he had a blood transfusion. This, of course, was before there were strict guidelines about blood transfusions, and sadly Wayne contracted Hepatitis C.
Did that slow him down? Are you kidding me? Wayne continued his life full speed ahead; he received a prosthetic leg and soon ended back up in Kentucky working with the Army Depot, then, later, third shift for Trane.
He met and married his beautiful wife Lavotus in 2007, and together they now own and operate L&W Sewing Basket on Main Street.
In 2010 something was off balance though, and Wayne found himself growing tired easily, but he blamed it on the third shift job and just kept pushing forward.
Due to the Hepatitis C he had contracted from the tainted blood, he had also developed cirrhosis of the liver, so he scheduled another doctor’s appointment to see what, if anything, they could pinpoint. After having four liver biopsies at the VA hospital, it was determined that Wayne had liver cancer, and it was already in the final stage.
Immediately, the hospital set him up an appointment to go to Vanderbilt Hospital in Tennessee where Wayne and Lavotus were told that Wayne needed a liver, and he needed it fast.
“They gave us a list, and told us to pack a suitcase and keep it beside the front door,” Lavotus said, and that is exactly what they did.
Wayne still didn’t slow down, and he continued to work his third shift job and walk by that suitcase everyday hoping that he would get a call about a liver donor.
The last of March 2011, the phone rang, and they threw the suitcase into the car and drove to Tennessee only to be disappointed because the liver that was donated was fatty and was not a good candidate for the surgery. It would be almost another month, on April 21, when the phone would ring again. Wayne worked on the 20th, came home, fell asleep, and woke up to Lavotus telling him the hospital had called, they had a liver and they had to be there in six hours. After a mad scramble they jumped into the car and Lavotus’s son drove them to Tennessee.
“We went 100 MPH the whole way,” Wayne said with a laugh.
“We got there though, with six minutes to spare,” added Lavotus.
Wayne went into surgery at 11 that night and didn’t go into recovery until almost five the next morning. After recovery He was in ICU for four days, and then moved to a regular room. They were in Tennessee for exactly one month.
The day that sticks out the most to Lavotus was May 29, when she was running behind and still had to go to a support group. She called the hospital and told the nurse to let Wayne know she would be there in a bit, and the nurse said “Well, do you want to talk to him?”
The night before, they had been told that if Wayne didn’t come off the ventilator, they would have to make an incision in his throat and redo it, but he came off in the middle of the night.
“When she gave him the phone, he said, “Well, hello, honey bunny.” “It was amazing,” Lavotus recalled.
The road to recovery wasn’t easy, in fact it was a miserable journey, but with the doctor’s help and the help of the Lord they made it.
“Man does what man can, but God does what man can’t,” Wayne told me.
Wayne just celebrated his fifth year transplant anniversary. To add to his story, he was involved in a seven car pileup on Hwy. 52 that very day.
“You’re kidding me,” I said.
“No,” his wife giggled, “his friends jokingly call him ‘Cat’ all the time, because they say he has 9 lives.”
As I was leaving, I stopped to take a picture of the couple sitting together on the loveseat in their shop. It was a wonderful moment, as Wayne said to Lavotus, “Come here, honey bunny,” just as he had over five years ago.
He patted the seat next to him and I teared up a little, because everyone in the room knew that if not for a generous organ donor in 2011 that moment would not have been possible.