Our Kind of People

Scuba Steve's friends, family, followers help him 'feel incredible'

GULFPORT -- When Scuba Steve Johnson went into surgery at 8 a.m. March 8, for a brief time, he was disconnected. His mother and grandparents were in the waiting area. His phone, in the pocket of best friend Kerry Parks, vibrated constantly as thousands of Facebook friends and Instagram followers sent words of encouragement, prayer or selfies.

Johnson, a well-known Coast clothier, was left with nurses and his surgeon -- awake and pondering -- before the anesthesia set in. "I was scared. You don't know what to expect," he said. "I was thinking about how I was going to feel the next day. It was the big unknown."

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Johnson and his mother arrived to Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans the day before surgery and checked into the hotel attached to the surgery center. Johnson had every intention of eating a po-boy for dinner because as a result of the surgery, he would have to have an ileostomy bag for a while, and he knew he would be on a strict diet in the first few weeks after the procedure. The week before, Johnson enjoyed his favorite eateries on the Coast and treated himself to pizza, cheesesteak and Mexican food.

But it was not going to be that easy in the Big Easy. He learned he would have to stick to a liquid diet that Monday.

"I wanted the last day to have something really good, but that didn't work out," he said. "I had chicken broth and Jell-O."

Bumps in the road

Scuba Steve opened his eyes after surgery and said a recovery specialist at Ochsner was there, smiling at him. He told Johnson he played music by Drake and Kanye West after the procedure to help him awaken.

"I was so out of it," he said. "I would wake up for a second, look around at everybody, say something and knock back out."

Johnson said the surgeon told him the surgery went well and recovery time was usually around three days.

But a complication that plagues 10 percent of patients who have the surgery happened to Johnson -- his stomach filled with green bile.

He couldn't hold anything down and stop vomiting.

A three-day recovery turned into nine days.

By Saturday, Johnson had been in the small hospital room for five days.

"I was ready to go home," he said. "I had seen enough, and I was tired of sitting there."

On Saturday, a long tube was inserted through Johnson's nose to his stomach to suction out the bile. The tube was large, and Johnson said he gagged as it slid down his throat. It caused his nose to bleed.

"It was the worst pain and it was definitely uncomfortable to sleep," he said. But the tube worked. And soon enough, Scuba Steve was released from the hospital.

Road to recovery

Johnson said his friends, mother, grandparents, father and brother all kept him company for more than a week after surgery. He got back to Gulfport on Wednesday and slept through the night and all day Thursday. He said he's going to focus on staying hydrated by drinking lots of liquids.

He's on a soft diet and has been eating boiled fish, green beans and ice pops.

"I can't say I haven't snuck in some Sour Patch Kids," he said.

The power of social media

Johnson said his followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have inspired him to keep fighting for remission from colorectal cancer.

He said thousands reached out to him via social media to offer love and support.

"I couldn't keep up. I haven't touched my messages yet on Facebook, and there's probably a few thousand," he said Thursday. The day of his surgery, he had 1,200 text messages on his phone. It overheated and turned off.

"When Robin Roberts wrote me on Saturday night, that was amazing," Johnson said, calling her a childhood hero. "And everything really went nuts when she did that."

Steve said the messages from his followers helped him through surgery in ways he could not imagine.

"It makes me feel incredible. When I was in that room, it was a mental game. You want to get out of there, you're behind. You're one of 10 percent of people to have this problem ... being in that room, you feel like you're in prison," he said. "But those comments and messages, it was really uplifting and helped me get through."

Johnson will spend the next couple of months taking it easy, and he'll soon start six months of chemotherapy.

Keep checking SunHerald.com for more on Johnson's recovery.

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