Albert Johnson and his wife were finishing up the last walkthrough after the sale of their Arizona home of 10 years. They were moving back to Minnesota where they grew up, to be with their children who still lived there. As they closed the front door and walked toward their car, Albert felt a sharp pain in his chest and fell to the ground.
He was having a heart attack.
“As I fell someone jumped from a car and began CPR,” Johnson said in a letter to the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council Office. “All I can remember, and from what my wife tells me, is that this man had a rosary in his hand and kept repeating ‘Hail Mary, full of grace’ over and over and over until the paramedics arrived.”
That man was Kenneth Ford, a Knight from Father John Arens Council 9678 in Sun Lakes, Arizona, who lived two blocks away. Ford himself converted to the faith shortly after moving to Minnesota more than 20 years ago. He joined the Knights of Columbus soon after. Years later he moved to Arizona to help care for his mother.
Ford was stopped at a stop sign while on a run to pick up groceries before a council meeting. He was wearing a Knights shirt and had a rosary in his pocket.
Ford saw Johnson collapse while stopped. Initially he thought the older man had tripped. But when he saw Johnson losing consciousness, Ford began administering CPR and told Johnson’s wife to call 9-1-1. Ford had received his certification as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) years earlier.
“I just grabbed the rosary out of my pocket and when I did the compressions, I said the Hail Mary as my cadence, to get into a rhythm,” Ford said.
He administered CPR for nearly seven minutes until paramedics arrived. As the paramedics were tending to Johnson, Ford asked Johnson’s wife if her husband had a rosary. She said her husband hadn’t had one or even prayed the Hail Mary for more than 50 years. Johnson was raised Catholic, and even remembered the Knights of Columbus dressing up on special occasions and hosting pancake breakfasts. But when Johnson met his wife, a Lutheran, following his return from the Korean War, he decided to raise his family Lutheran.
Ford decided to give Johnson his rosary and the name of his priest to call from St. Steven’s Catholic Church. Johnson did just that, talking to a priest, and referring to the rosary as one of his “prized possessions.”
“My doctors told me that I am alive today because of the actions of this man,” Johnson writes. “This has touched my very soul and I am eternally grateful to God that he put a Knight of Columbus in front of me when I was fighting for my life.”
But Ford, who is humbled by the experience, credits the Knights of Columbus councils that Johnson knew more than 50 years ago with giving him hope in his time of need.
“They laid a foundation for him later that when he came in contact, he knew who the Knights of Columbus were by seeing my shirt. That meant something to him,” Ford said. “It proves that the work that we do now may not bear fruit immediately, but down the road it can grow and blossom into something that is amazing.”
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