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Virginia couple undergoes simultaneous procedure

April 1, 2018

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Garnett Junior and Mary Ruth Lineberry, who have been married for 65 years, do everything together — including an operation Monday.

The couple is having the same heart procedure done, on the same day, at the same hospital, at the same time, just walls apart.

Some may call it coincidence, but the family said higher powers are at work.

“To me it’s like fate. What are the odds? It’s like lottery-odds,” said their daughter, Cindy Patrick, who lives in North Davidson. “I can’t believe it. They’ve been together for everything and now this.”

The couple — both of whom were transferred from their local hospital near their home in Woodlawn, Virginia — each are receiving an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) at Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem in an operation Monday morning.

Garnett’s surgery had been on the books for months after a triple bypass open heart surgery in October despite being the picture of health all his life, his family said.

Mary Ruth’s need for surgery came as more of a surprise after she landed in the emergency room last weekend with chest pains and a heart rate of 180 bpm.

“They’re both on separate health journeys, so when I heard they’re having the same surgery, the same day, the same hour, I just kind of threw my hands up in the air,” said their daughter Sandra Hanes from Virginia. “It’s a crazy, crazy thing. We joke they’re having a date at the hospital.”

Mary Ruth, 82, and Garnett, who will be 84 on April 7, met in elementary school when she was in first grade.

Garnett saved up his money working at a sawmill, and the two were married when he was 18 and she was 16.

They now have five children, 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

“I used to walk through the night by the graveyard a few miles to visit her until I sold two calves and had enough money to buy a Chevrolet truck for $1,050,” Garnett said.

As the surgeries approach, the couple spent the weekend meeting with friends and family and recounting the many memories from their long marriage.

Mary Ruth worked as a seamstress at a sewing factory before working for the state of Virginia for 20 years. Garnett held many jobs from baling hay to being a brick mason, where he would work for $2 an hour.

After raising five children and each working a full-time job, they took their first big vacation to the Bahamas, riding an airplane for the first time in their mid-50s.

“He shut his eyes real tight and said, ‘We’re leaving the earth.’ I had the window seat and I was loving it. I had to drag him along,” Mary Ruth said with a laugh.

“She’s the adventurous one,” Garnett admitted. “She would ride any kind of roller coaster up until a couple years ago.”

The couple has been active in their church, with Garnett best known for his famous gravy, pancake and cornbread recipes that he learned from his mother.

They spend much of their time nowadays volunteering and taking care of a friend who has had several strokes and is in a wheelchair.

“My father always told me, ‘It doesn’t cost you anything to be kind to someone,’” Patrick said. “They never had a lot of money but they would literally give you the shirt off their backs if you needed it. They are both exceptional people.”

A testament to Garnett’s kindness brought up in the trip down memory lane was the time he helped rebuild a neighbor’s house at age 10 and used all his money to buy the neighbor new shoes since her possessions had been destroyed in the fire.

Patrick also recalled her childhood growing up on a big farm and the time when her father brought her home a beautiful horse named Jim Dandy.

While much has changed since then, the couple has lived in the same Virginia farmhouse for more than half a century. They’ve both been healthy until late last year.

“I was lifting two 5-gallon buckets full of feed and just felt this chest tightness,” Garnett said of the moment that brought him to the hospital in Galax, Virginia, last fall. “Now they make me wear this bra.”

His “bra” is what he calls the external device that encircles his chest and regulates his heart. It’s a point of contention and laughter among him and the nurses.

“Humor and faith, that’s what’s gotten us through this,” Patrick said.

While the heart problems have been scary, the medical journey has brought the family even closer together.

“My daughter said, ‘I hate how Mimi and Papa have to go through this, but I love getting to know them better,’” Patrick said. “With all the stress, she really put it in perspective, giving us a little bit of sunshine in the really bad moments.”

His 22-year-old granddaughter, Lee Garnett Patrick, was named after him and wrote out his medications in a note he keeps folded up in his wallet.

There’s a lot to think about with an impending surgery, but Garnett says he knows his faith will get him through it.

“I just thank the good Lord for all the blessings he’s given me,” he said as he put his arm around his wife and wiped away a tear with his cloth handkerchief. “I’ve had an incredible life, an incredible family. I’m blessed.”


Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, http://www.journalnow.com

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