Rexford amputee still finds the humor in life

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  • Ivy Johansson at The Rock medical office building in Kalispell on Nov. 27. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Rexford residents Ken and Ivy Johannson. (Photo provided)

  • Ivy Johansson at The Rock medical office building in Kalispell on Nov. 27. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Rexford residents Ken and Ivy Johannson. (Photo provided)

Ivy Johansson describes herself as a jokester whose “mouth runs 100 miles per hour.”

She is not boasting.

The 73-year-old Rexford resident and Swedish native who came to the United States in 1966 has an infectious personality and sense of humor that can charm seemingly anyone.

Few, if any, would blame her for having different feelings after what she dealt with in February 2018.

One cold, snowy night, she went to bed with husband Ken. She had a bit of a stomachache, but when she woke up at 2 a.m., she asked him to take her to the emergency room.

“When I stood up, I collapsed,” Ivy recalled.

Ken got Ivy into their van and raced to Kalispell Regional Medical Center.

Her blood pressure was low and her skin was bluish in color and cool to touch.

A kidney stone had torn the inside of her kidney, causing an infection that nearly killed her.

“The doctors told my husband to call my son and best friend because they weren’t sure I was going to make it,” she said.

After 2 1/2 weeks in the intensive care unit, Ivy woke up. She was confused about where she was, but a nurse explained she was in the ICU.

“I told her I was ready to go, but she said ‘No way that’s happening.’”

Ivy’s hands and feet were black. The kidney infection resulted in septic shock. The shock created a condition where clots had excessively formed in the Ivy’s blood vessels. It often leads to dead tissue and the result was that her hands and feet had to be amputated.

“When they told me what they had to do, I said ‘Big deal, you can have ‘em,’” Ivy said. “This is the way I’ve always been,” she said. “Better me, who’s been all around the world, than someone younger.”

Ivy’s disposition served her well as a flight attendant. Despite working in a demanding position taking care of sometimes grumpy world travelers, she said her goal was to always to make everyone happy.

“I believe I was put on this earth to not only aggravate my husband, but to help others,” Ivy said. “One of the doctors told Ken I might be a vegetable, but I turned out to be a little cauliflower,” she said with a laugh.

With Ivy, the one-liners never stop.

She can’t say enough good things about her doctors and nurses who cared for her.

“Dr. Todd Johnson, I want to meet him. He was the ER doctor when I was brought in, but I was unconscious. He and his staff got me through the worst of it,” she said.

When she was transferred to the ICU, under the care of Dr. Obermiller, she also credited one of the nurses, Francis, for getting her out of bed so she wouldn’t suffer as much from muscle atrophy.

She also raved about her time in Brendan House, where she began her rehabilitation.

“Dr. Weber and Dr. Johnston and the rehab crew were something special,” she said.

But as much as they impressed her, Ivy left an indelible impression on them.

“I met a woman who had lost one of her legs because of diabetes and I told her, ‘You have to help yourself and you have to get out of the wheelchair.

“Don’t complain because no one wants to hear it,’” Ivy advised.

Ivy said doctors told her later that the day after her heart-to-heart with the woman, she was out of the wheelchair and much more positive.

Her time in Brendan House also created another opportunity for a joke.

“Bill, one of the nurses there, had lost one of his middle fingers in some type of mishap and I told them they should just give him one of mine,” Ivy joked.

After the surgeries, done two weeks apart, to remove her hands and her feet at mid-calf, there was a period of adjustment.

The first one was learning how to use a wheelchair.

“Going to the commode, the bed was too high, those were both adjustments,” she recalled. “Ken built ramps so I could get in the van and get into bed.

After she had been fitted with her prosthetics, she worked with several nurses and rehab technicians.

“Everyone was great,” Ivy said. “I’ve learned how to write and I can do crossword puzzles; I’m still working at it.”

Ivy hasn’t been wearing her “sleeves,” which serve as her arms, after a recent fall when she tried to put a water bowl on the floor for their three dogs, a German shepherd and two lhasa apsos.

“I just have to let it heal before I can start wearing them again,” she said.

Ivy and Ken are looking forward to two upcoming trips.

“We’re going to Alaska next year, but first we’re headed to a spa in Radium Hot Springs in Canada. They have a wheelchair that I get into a pool with after I put on the flotation devices. It’s a 50-meter pool and I’ve done up to 200 meters.

“I just try to a little more today than I did yesterday and it’s been working well,” she said,

Ivy glows when talking about Ken, a former airline pilot.

“He’s just great,” she said warmly. “He washes me, he puts my earrings in; if I have an itch, he scratches it. He’s become my beautician, my hairdresser.”

Ivy doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her, either.

“Don’t pity me, this is the hand I was dealt, but I won’t let it get me down,” she said.

Ivy said there has been another unforeseen benefit to the loss of her limbs.

“We’ve saved about $100 a month for pedicures and manicures,” she joked.

Yes, for Ivy Johansson, those one-liners just keep coming.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 758-4441 or

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