Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Woman of Style: Michelle Johnston

Going Red with a Powerful Purpose

Michelle Johnston wears red almost every day.  It's not just because she looks radiant in the color red or loves the way it looks.  Michelle lives red.  She believes in the power of red.  

I met Michelle through the American Heart Association in Vermont and New York.  She is a gorgeous, glowing woman who has made me laugh and cry with her amazing philosophy on life.  She has a huge smile, infectious laugh and warm soul.  She is someone whom I will never forget.  I hope her story will also inspire you to live a little more, have more fun and never take one day for granted.  

Photo By:  Leading Edge Design
(Ty and Amy Krester)

Michelle's Story

It seemed like an average day in Michelle Johnston's life.  She was carrying groceries inside her Shelburne, Vt., home in October 2009.  Her husband and 6-year-old daughter had also just arrived home.  The well loved mom and wife doesn't remember much after that.  Within about 10 seconds, she collapsed and her heart stopped beating.  Her husband performed CPR until the paramedics arrived, which is exactly why Michelle believes she is alive today.  She had suffered sudden cardiac arrest.  "When I died, it took 25 minutes to get me back.  Then, I died again and came back on the way to the hospital,"  she told my interviewing class at SUNY Plattsburgh in the Spring of 2012. 

Michelle woke up after being in a coma not knowing where she was or that the man sitting by the side of her hospital bed was her husband. She persevered through a long recovery, routinely seeing trauma and speech therapists.  She now has an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) in her chest, which is a secondary pacemaker.  It's essentially a box she compares to a phone jack that wires into the heart valve.  

The mom and wife still has no idea why she went into sudden cardiac arrest and died.  There is no heart disease in her family.  However, she says, "Dying was probably the best thing that happened to me other than my husband and child."  "I feel like I am 20 years ahead of the game in that knowledge of just life in general.  And I live my days like that."  Her philosophy is "Everything happens for a reason."

Volunteering with the American Heart Association

Photo By:  Karen Pike Photography

Michelle started volunteering with the American Heart Association about a year after she technically died.  She said her platform is this:  1) Take care of yourself  2) There is no reason you shouldn't know CPR and 3) If you smoke, try to stop.  She also encourages healthy eating and exercise.  "One of the things they said to me was, 'If you weren't as healthy as you were when you died, you probably wouldn't have come out of it as well.'"  

As you'll read below, Michelle believes counteracting stress is very important.  "As a woman in general, a mother, daughter, you could be going to school, have a job, it's just constant stress."  Her advice to counter the constant pressure?  Take a second.  She says she is much happier now that she's had a second chance.  She can walk out of the house without having every dish washed and every carpet vacuumed.  She can let go!

Go Red for Women

This Friday, she encourages you to wear red to raise awareness about heart disease, which is the number one killer of women. "I always wore red prior to that and I wear it now.  I don't know; it's one of those colors.  I think it was meant for me," Michelle told my students.  I believe it was meant for this phenomenal survivor too!  Here is a link for even more information on why and how to Go Red for Women this Friday.

Photos:  Courtesy of Michelle Johnston

Q&A:  Michelle's Life & Personal Style

You are definitely a "get up and go" person with a LOT of energy and passion for life. How do you keep it up day after day?

The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is take a moment to breathe and tell myself “It’s a beautiful day.” I am so blessed to be alive and have all that I have. I feel it’s important to let those around me know I am here for them and that life is good to us. I have been given a second chance, and it's so important to make the most of it day after day. We only have: One Heart. One Life. Live It!

You obviously have fun with style, which is not always true for everyone. How do you keep it fun and not overwhelming?

I like to be myself and go with what makes me feel comfortable. I love to wear red; it radiates energy, love and life. When I wear red, it makes me feel happy and I have fun with it in all sorts of styles. There are so many shades of it, and to accessorize with a pair of earrings is easy to do.

How would you describe your style in a few words?

Everyday, easy going, vibrant, figure fitting, and with some attitude. I “walk with a purpose” and have a “pep in my step” when I dress this way.

What is your "go-to" look?

On the go or whether to work, I always grab a v-neck. I always have chosen to wear a v-neck dress, blouse, shirt or sweater most of the time, sometimes scoop. I like to wear and show my heart necklace my daughter gave me years ago and this style helps me do that. It’s important she is with me. And I always wear red 90 percent of the time. I love that it keeps me alive and energized, makes me feel happy.

I know you have a bucket list (Michelle calls it a "Life List") and have been steadily accomplishing things on it. What have you been up to?
Recently, I quietly took golf lessons with a pro and am happy to say I crossed off “learning golf” on my “Life-List." In return, I went to Florida and played my first game ever on a golf course in Orlando. I also crossed off “zip lining," which I did high above alligators at Gatorland in Orlando. Previous to that, I received my motorcycle license and purchased a sports bike which were both on my “Life List” and also went to Disney World for the first time with the family.

I am honored Michelle chose to share her personal story and words to live by with us. She inspires me constantly. Share her story on Facebook and Twitter if you love it too. The more people who hear it, the better! And don't forget to Go Red for Women on Friday!

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