There aren't many 6-year-olds who get a ride in a Walmart truck across town, let alone a shopping spree through the major retail store.
Cade Johnson of Paducah isn't just any 6-year-old. The Walmart Heart program recognized that, making Cade an honorary Walmart driver Saturday.
Cade has a congenital heart condition called Ebstein's anomaly, in which the valve between the right atrium and the right ventricle -- the tricuspid valve -- doesn't work properly. Blood leaks back through the valve, and the heart works less efficiently. He was diagnosed with Ebstein's anomaly three months before his due date and was born a month early through Caesarian section, going immediately into his first open-heart surgery that day.
Cade has had three open-heart surgeries with ablations, treatments to cause heart tissue to scar and treat abnormal electrical signals that move through the heart and cause irregular heartbeats. His other open-heart surgeries came when he was 6-months-old and 4-years-old. He only has one ventricle, and a pacemaker was implanted last year to help him maintain a steady heartbeat.
"Cade has a single-ventricle heart, but funny enough, he has more heart than anybody else I know," his father, Michael Johnson, said. "He's here, he's a warrior, and his future is in God's hands."
Cade also has a fragile immune system and is autistic.
Cade hopped on a Walmart semi at the Hinkleville Road store Saturday and rode it through town, arriving at the store on Irvin Cobb Drive about 11 a.m., accompanied by a police and fire escort and other Walmart trucks. He was given a Walmart truck driver shirt with his name on it to make him more official, and Paducah Tilghman High School cheerleaders lined the store's sidewalk to welcome the Cade motorcade.
Walmart truck driver Mike Seider said the Walmart Heart program began in 1998, and is driven by truck drivers who call on store managers to make donations, usually through gift cards, for children with heart defects or diseases.
Cade is a first-grade student at Reidland Elementary School and enjoys drawing. He was given a Mickey Mouse bag full of coloring and art supplies, and when he pulled out a paint set, he had a huge smile on his face, showing the paints to his mother, Stacy Johnson. Before leaving the stage after receiving the gifts, Cade made sure to say, "Thank you."
"Last year, he had a pacemaker put in," Michael Johnson said. "Hopefully, that's going to be the last he has to do until he gets older. The way we understand it, there's the possibility that he might have to have a heart transplant. He's been up-and-down on a feeding tube, he stays sick a lot, we've been LifeFlighted three times to Louisville.
"After his third open-heart surgery, things started to turn around. ... Once they installed the pacemaker, that reduced his medication to one aspirin a day."
Stacy Johnson said that Cade is doing well and was grateful for the special day.
"He's stable -- has been for a couple of years now," she said. "Everything medically is as good as it can be for the moment.
"I never imagined in the slightest that (the special day) would turn out this big. It's just incredible to see how many people came out for this. It's wonderful. We're very appreciative."
Cade was joined on the special day by his brothers, Elijah Johnson and David Shelby, and his grandmother, Julia Shelby. About 100 people along with several Walmart associates, first responders, Kentucky State Police and professional singer Kenny Presley turned out to honor Cade.