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Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham

Englewood’s Beloved Ms. Gwen Recovering After Tough Fight With Coronavirus: There’s ‘More Work To Do’

The co-founder of I Grow Chicago and longtime neighborhood gardener has lasting complications from the virus, but she is back to work.

I Grow Chicago volunteer Gwen Johnson (left) in an undated photo.
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ENGLEWOOD — Englewood community leader Gwen Johnson is on the road to recovery more than five months after contracting coronavirus.

Johnson, known as Ms. Gwen to people in the neighborhood, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early April. The co-founder of I Grow Chicago was hospitalized for weeks at Rush University Medical Center’s intensive care unit, fighting for her life while isolated from family and friends.

“They thought I wasn’t going to make it, but God made it possible,” said the 83-year-old. “He told me, ‘It’s not your time yet. You’ve got more work to do.'”

Ms. Gwen talks about life after COVID-19 in a recent video on I Grow Chicago’s Facebook page.

While loved ones couldn’t be by Johnson’s side in the hospital, the community she’s loved and looked after for decades held prayer vigils in her honor.

After some time on a ventilator, Johnson pulled through. But the virus caused lasting complications.

The once-spry octogenarian is learning to walk again, and she’ll have to have surgery on her face due to a stroke she suffered while receiving treatment. And then there’s the pacemaker she received and the daily muscle spasms she experiences.

“When I came home, I was flat on my back. I couldn’t get up or nothin’, had to be turned from side to side,” Johnson said. “I’m able to dress myself now, and the therapists are trying to train me on how to walk with a cane. I’ve accomplished quite a bit.”

Of course, Johnson is back to work thinking of ways to empower Englewood youth through urban farming, job training and mentorship.

Currently, she’s working with other I Grow volunteers on supporting Englewood families after a recent spike in violence.

Soon, she hopes to return to the garden she’s lovingly tended to since arriving on Wood Street more than 50 years ago.

“You come down 63rd and Wood and you’ll know it’s my house because of all the beautiful flowers,” said Johnson, who lent her self-taught gardening skills to I Grow Chicago when they moved onto the block years ago.

The mother of four credits the organization — and a compassionate medical team — with getting her back on her feet.

“They have shown so much love. When I needed another walker, they got me one with the wheels and the brakes on them. … They’ve helped with so many things I’ve needed,” she said.

“I’m 83 years old and they brought me back, so I got the mindset that I’m gonna be better.”

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