WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — Racking, breaking and banking! At 12 years old Matthew Johnson is one kid, much like his pool game, we could probably all take a cue from in life, especially when it comes to overcoming problems with our health.
Matthew's mom, Janna, and his stepfather, Daniel Evans, have been by his side through his journey.
"I thought I had the perfect child that slept, ate and went to sleep...no crying. I thought he was just the perfect kid, but that wasn't the case, "Janna Evans said.
Turn back the clock to when Matthew was just 9 months old, and what was supposed to be a simple visit to his pediatrician led to the discovery of a heart murmur.
Matthew was diagnosed with atrial septal defect and mitral valve leak.
He would to have open heart surgery at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis.
"I was really nervous, a 9-month-old getting ready for open heart surgery at 11 months old is pretty stressful. Any surgery on a child is awful, and I wasn't sure he would make it," Janna said.
Matthew did make it and the surgery was a success. The valve was repaired and worked well for several years, but when Matthew became 6 years old, something just didn't feel right for him. He had more heart complications and remembers how he felt.
"Whenever I got there it was severe and I couldn't walk very much. She had to carry me a lot," Matthew said.
"He couldn't walk from the parking lot of Walmart to our car without me carrying him. He'd have to take a two-hour nap," Janna said.
Matthew's mitral valve leak was so severe that at 6 years old he would need a second open heart surgery.
"He had a second open heart surgery. Everybody, the surgeons, thought they'd have to do a mitral valve replacement, which he would have had to been on blood thinners. But Doctor Knott-Craig thought he could repair it, which he did," Janna said.
Not only was the mitral valve repaired, but the procedure seemed to have repaired Matthew like never before.
"It was a whole life change. I wasn't used to a child that could run and jump and I was chasing everywhere trying to keep up. It was like a whole new experience. It was like I had a brand-new child, " Janna said.
He's like a brand-new child and one who says he remembers feeling better almost right after his surgery happened.
"But after my four-hour long surgery I felt better after an hour because they put medicine into to me from the tubes everywhere, and I started walking around a day later," Matthew said.
Six years later, Matthew is not only walking around, but he's doing much more these days.
"I'm feeling great. I can run and play football at my school, but I can't play professional or college anything right now, " Matthew said.
Matthew is not suiting up to play college or pro football just yet, but he's able to run and jump like other kids and compete and win in martial arts tournaments.
But he'll tell you his real joy is being a big brother and helping looking after the baby and even changing diapers.
"I'm very glad he's healthy because if he's not I'd be really sad if he's like me and would have to go over it again," Matthew said.
"I got to give him a pat on the back. He's a really good big brother. He watches him sometimes when I got things to do. He's a good big brother," Daniel said.
Matthew Johnson is a proud big brother who's happy and healthy and a good student in school.
Take a cue from Matthew. There's nothing like knowing Le Bonheur is close by, if needed, and seeing that giant stitched heart when coming to Memphis.
"'Hey mom, there's Le Bonheur. They helped me!' And she would be like, 'Yes, they helped you a lot " Matthew said.
"They've always helped you and they've helped so many kids. We are really fortunate to just be across the bridge from Le Bonheur," Janna said.