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Former Ellsworth resident recovering after heart stops on Thanksgiving

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article was written by Kevin Abourezk of the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, where it was originally published before being submitted for publication in the Herald.

Riley Johnson may never remember Thanksgiving Day 2012, and that may be a blessing.

On Nov. 22, the 22-year-old University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) student ate lunch with his family, played football with cousins and uncles in an abandoned lot, and then slumped over at a table, unconscious.

"His eyes were kind of back in his head," said his mother, Ronna Johnson.

Riley walked into a bar in Ellsworth, Wis., with several family members at about 5 that evening. One toast later, his mom said, he fell against his sister, who was sitting next to him.

Four days later, Riley--managing editor of the Daily Nebraskan, UNL's student newspaper--was sitting up and talking in his hospital room in St. Paul, Minn. The senior journalism major also was preparing to undergo surgery to remove an extra pathway in the lower half of his heart, a condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.

His mother said he had never complained about his heart before and had no idea he was suffering from the syndrome, which often is transferred genetically. Now, his sister and parents will be tested to be sure they don't have it, she said.