In late January, Johnston went for routine bloodwork, and mentioned to her doctor that she had been having some abdominal pain but it seemed to have gone away. The doctor examined her and sent her for further tests.
"She wasn't feeling well for a couple of weeks," Truett said. "It turns out she had an abdominal aortic aneurysm."
Johnston needed emergency surgery, and her 45-year-old son, Larry, who lives in Jackson, N.J., found a surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania hospital in Philadelphia who would do the surgery Jan. 31.
"It was very touch-and-go for weeks, but she pulled through," Truett said. "She ended up with a feeding tube and a tracheostomy, and is now paralyzed from the waist down."
Johnston, who is 67, has been discharged from the hospital and is now in an acute-care rehabilitation hospital in New Jersey. She has been away from Creekside Stables in Lower Windsor Township since late January, and her son said she's eager to get back home.
Creekside Stables offers horse-riding lessons, trail rides and boarding for horses.
"Her theory has always been to make horses available for those who can't afford them. She has more than 20 horses and many barn cats," Truett said. "She has always wanted to spay and neuter her cats, but hasn't been able to afford it."
Since Johnston became ill, her friend Shelly Howell has been running the farm and Truett has been working to catch and spay or neuter the cats living in the barn. So far, Truett has caught 21 of the cats and had them spayed or neutered.
"I was originally thinking there were about 30 out there; however, it seems every time I go out now there are more and more that aren't ear-tipped," she said.
When feral cats are spayed or neutered, it's common for the tip of their ear to be removed, so caretakers can tell which cats have already been to the clinic.
An elderly black mixed-breed dog named Buddy who usually lives on the farm is now staying with Howell. Trish Christine cares for the horses.
Truett said some of the horses are "forever horses," meaning Sandy rescued them and agreed to keep them.
Larry Johnston said his mother has been a registered nurse for approximately 35 years, having worked at a hospital in Lancaster and at York Hospital before joining the staff at Memorial Hospital.
He said she's always been a hard worker, and has made many sacrifices to make sure her horses had what they needed.
"She'd rather have horse manure under her fingernails than nail polish on them," he said.
Johnston said his mother has a special connection with animals, especially horses. "She can get horses to do things nobody else can. She's like a horse whisperer."
Getting Sandy home
"We can't get Sandy home until her house is handicapped-accessible," Truett said. "So, through friends and co-workers, we've made contact with a couple organizations willing to help us get her house ready for her to come home."
She said the big work days will be May 4 and 5, but there may be other work days added.
"The goal is to have the farm back up and running by May 25 so Sandy can come home," Truett said. "We're planning on doing a big open house for her."
She said a physical therapist at Memorial Hospital set it up with the Seventh Day Adventist Church of West York to help prepare the property as a local mission project.
Memorial Hospital employees are coming out to help, and a local Girl Scout troop may help with gardening. Boy Scout Troop 50 is going to build the wheelchair ramp.
Volunteers are needed to help with home repairs, cleaning, painting, gardening, cleaning horses, moving Johnston's bedroom downstairs and more. They also need volunteers who can replace a "milk room" roof, help with sod and help with pulling trees and large weeds.
If you'd like to help, email Mini at email@example.com or call 717-805-9568.
If you go
CREEKSIDE STABLES is at 204 Abel Road, Lower Windsor Township.
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 25, the stables will hold an open house.
After May 25, Shelly Howell will be offering horse-riding lessons for $35 per hour and trail rides for $35 per hour. The tack shop will be open soon, also.
Creekside also will offer full-care boarding for $275 per month, which includes feeding, watering, clean stalls and daily turnout. Owners are responsible for major vet, dentist and farrier fees. Small veterinary services can be handled by staff; owner will be charged for supplies used.
For more information, call farm manager Shelly Howell at 717-683-7949.
Want to help?
VOLUNTEERS ARE NEEDED to help with heavy work, electrical repairs, home repairs, cleaning, painting, gardening, cleaning horses, moving Johnston's bedroom downstairs and pulling trees and large weeds.
There's a need for volunteers who can repair a "milk room" roof, make the bathroom handicapped-accessible and help to build the handicapped-accessible ramp.
Donations needed include sod for the horse fields, cat food and rocks to fill in the driveway.
Workdays are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5, but more days might be added.
If you'd like to help in any way, email Mini at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 717-805-9568.