July 21--NORFOLK -- If anyone deserved a vacation redo, it was Jack and Mary Jones of Tennessee.
Last year, the couple was set to celebrate their 25th anniversary in Williamsburg and the Outer Banks, but Jack had a heart attack his first night in Virginia, landing him at the Sentara Heart Hospital in Norfolk.
That was the start of a 145-day hospital stay that began with surgeons removing his heart, then hooking him up to an artificial one, and eventually giving him a transplant.
Mary -- who lived in guest housing in the hospital the whole time -- said she and her husband vowed to come back and finish their anniversary vacation even before they left last December.
They came back to the heart hospital today -- by bicycle instead of ambulance -- on the first anniversary of the day Jack arrived, unconscious, last year.
Nearly everything the couple knew about the area was from watching local television news, since Jack couldn't leave the hospital. So they also had a list of sights they wanted to take in, such as the Oceanfront and the King Neptune statue in Virginia Beach. They'll also visit the Outer Banks, Williamsburg and the Northern Neck before returning to their Tennessee farm.
Today, they rode their bikes from their Norfolk hotel to the hospital, where one of their favorite mainstays greeted them in the lobby: Jack, a therapy dog who kept the human Jack company during his long stay.
The couple came to the hospital on three separate days, to thank each of the shifts of people who cared for Jack.
"Guess what?" the 61-year-old farmer said to Dr. A. Randolph Garnett, a lung and critical care specialist on the unit where Jack stayed. "I haven't had one."
That would be "one" cigarette. Garnett had strongly advised Jack to give up smoking.
When he saw Jack filling out some forms, Garnett joked: "Did he not pay his bill, is that the problem?"
Jack said he doesn't know the sum total of his hospital stay, but he said it would definitely exceed all the insurance premiums he's paid since the day he was born.
The experience also gave him this lesson:
"Anything can happen at any time. I used to procrastinate, 'I'll do that tomorrow.' Now I think 'You better get it done today.' "
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