TACOMA, Wash. – Celebrating the 25th birthday of a portion of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s medical center, a former patient was reunited with her surgeon.
Jeannine Johnson, 26, had a complicated leg surgery when she was four years old, and was operated on by Dr. Cylde Carpenter at the Madigan hospital facility.
Johnson said Carpenter gave her a confidence and helped her develop a reoccurring theme for her life.
“If they tell me I can’t do it, I’ll try it anyway,” she said.
Johnson is a project manager by day and a part-time competitive race car driver in her spare time.
“Not only have I learned to walk three or four different times, and yes, I’m part-time in a wheelchair, but I’m all about using what I have to do whatever I can do to be on the track,” Johnson said.
Johnson was born premature. At 24 weeks old, she weighed 1 pound 10 ounces.
“I was born with what’s called necrotizing enterocolitis, so parts of my intestines had holes,” she said.
She had surgery to fix that issue, but then another issue developed.
“My bones weren’t growing at all in my right leg,” Johnson said.
Her health complications kept Johnson at Madigan hospital fighting of her life, while her family was stationed at what was then McChord Air Force Base.
“I was given a 1 percent chance to live, and on multiple occasions my parents were told unfortunately that I would die. There were times while they were planning my funeral while I was in the hospital,” she said.
But there was one doctor at Madigan, Carpenter, who could perform a unique surgery to save Johnson and give her an opportunity to walk.
“They lengthened my right leg, and this was done doing a procedure called the ilizarov,” she said.
While one leg will always be a few inches shorter than the other, it’s good enough to get the 26-year-old to the one place that makes her feel most alive.
“Most people don’t go through that and come out and say I want to drive my race car. She never let it slow her down,” said Bill Johnson, Jeannine’s father.
After all of these years, she wanted to thank him.
“To this day, I mean he’s probably one of the most influential people in my life,” she said.