Thankful People: John Stenger survives failing heart valve

John Stenger and his daughter, Alice Dalton, are thankful that a year and a half after a serious heart issue life is back to normal for the Campbell, Missouri, man, who is approaching his 90th birthday and enjoys cutting wood and gardening.
Rick Fahr

CAMPBELL, Mo. — John Stenger knew something wasn't right. His daughter did, too.

By the time June 1, 2021, rolled around, John had been feeling poorly for a while. Fatigued. Difficulty breathing. Just ... off.

Throughout his life, he had been in good health. Mostly.

A bout of tuberculosis after his service in the Korean War was bad, but other than that, his health hadn't been an issue, and he pursued several careers that kept him active and busy. A fourth-generation blacksmith, John recounted fixing more than a few disks for area farmers.

"They like to hook them on trees, and they will tear them up," he said.

Three hundred hives of bees generated a dozen barrels of honey each year.

He also kept up a farm a few miles outside Campbell, in the Missouri Bootheel. He raised enough hay to keep his livestock fed, and for some time he even grew enough tomatoes to feed a small army of people each year.

"I made enough to make my payments. In three years, I had the farm paid for," he proudly noted.

But on that fateful day in 2021, the day after Memorial Day, a failing heart valve caught up with him after 88 years.

His daughter, Alice Dalton, a retired nurse, knew something was wrong.

"He sat here and just about died," she said. "I think if I hadn't been here, he would have been toast."

A quick call to 911 led to a trip to a hospital in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and the discovery of the failing valve.

From there, he was taken to Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, where he received an artificial valve. Two days later, he left the hospital.

He hasn't looked back since, noting his heartbeat these days is "one beat from perfect."

Alice agreed.

"He's been doing fine," she said. "I told them when we went up there for the (annual checkup after the surgery), and I told them, 'Before, he did stuff all the time, but he would have to sit down because he would get short of breath, worn out. Now, since he's got that done, he goes out and cuts wood. I know he's thankful to be able to do that kind of stuff. He gets out there and can pretty much do that kind of stuff."

This year, he planted a garden and has plans to replant some trees around the farm.

"At the yearly checkup, they were like, 'We can't believe this. You are doing so good,'" Alice noted.

John's perspective on his health scare is simple and straightforward, like his nine decades on this earth. What's he most thankful for?

"That I made it through surgery."