Women Heart Care Logo

A Single Mom’s Shocking Diagnosis  

Tahwanda Johnson, 59, retired teacher’s assistant and Navy veteran, mother of two, grandmother of three. 

When Tahwanda Johnson was just 35, she had a health scare that would stop anybody in her tracks. “I thought I had mono,” she recalls. “I went to the doctor, and he sent me right to the hospital. Looking back now, I think he probably knew what was wrong and didn’t

want to scare me. When I got there, they ran tests and found that my heartbeat was irregular and that they would need to put in a defibrillator. It happened so fast.” 

Tahwanda Johnson


For this busy, working, single mom of two who was used to juggling a career as a teacher’s assistant with parenting a tween son and daughter, this surprise diagnosis and ensuring recovery presented heavy challenges. “Life changed in an instant,” she says. Her church, ex-husband and mother all swept in to help, but Tahwanda and her children had to figure out how to navigate their new normal. “I couldn’t work anymore. My children were young, but they were old enough to understand,” Tahwanda says, reflecting on some of the sacrifices they had to make. “It was six months before I was even able to drive. We learned to ride the bus. They learned to do everything for themselves and not to ask for things they couldn’t have. They stepped up.” 



Then, in 2019, when her children were grown, Tahwanda started feeling sick again. “I was short of breath and having heart palpitations. One night, I collapsed. My daughter took me to the hospital.” It was there that she received the news from her cardiologist that she was in heart failure and they would need to implant an LVAD – left ventricular assist device (a mechanical circulatory support machine that pumps blood through the heart) to keep her heart pumping. “I never panicked, thought,” she says. “I knew I was in good hands. They explained everything… that, this time, I would be in the hospital for about 45 days for recovery and rehab.” She stayed with her daughter, Ebony Johnson, for weeks before returning to her own home. 

Her support team at UofL Health helped with the transition of living with the device that requires a battery pack and she carries in a purse-like bag everywhere she goes. “My LVAD coordinator, Lisa Simpson, is the best person I have ever met in my life,” says Tahwanda. “She is there for me 24/7. She calls me at home to make sure I’m feeling well and that I have all my medicines. I don’t just have my own wonderful family; I have another family at UofL Health and they make it their business to keep me going.” 

Recovered, retired and enjoying life as a grandmother of three, she beams with pride when discussing the way her children have thrived. “Today, they are both successful, hard-working parents who are raising their children to know the value of a dollar,” she says. “Watching them grow up to be wonderful, kind people is the greatest joy in my life.”