Christine Lee, NBC 5 Irving Reporter
Former students are coming together for Irving MacArthur High School journalism teacher Johnny Heard who is in hospice care battling COPD.
MacArthur High School alumni are rallying around a former teacher struggling with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Johnny Heard, who taught journalism at the Irving high school in the 1970s and 1980s, is in hospice care.
His former students are rallying around him and planning a big birthday bash for this weekend.
Former student Mark Ridlen launched a Facebook page in October, Heard's Herd, to keep his high school friends updated on their former teacher's health. More than 200 joined, almost overnight, he said.
Ridlen was Heard's student for three years in the '70s.
"He was more to me the eccentric and intellectual uncle I never had," he said.
"He was by far the best of any journalism class I ever had in any college," said Cindy Coleman, who learned about Heard's health through Ridlen.
Since hearing the news, Coleman, who lives in Grapevine, regularly goes to the hospice location in Hurst.
"A lot of times, he feels like he doesn't have a family and I keep telling him, 'That's not true. You do. All your friends are your family,'" she said.
Ridlen is organizing a birthday party for Heard on Sunday. He said he hopes his former teacher can be healthy enough a bit longer to enjoy his special day one more time.
"With him these days, it's just hour-to-hour and day-to-day," he said. "I went out there and visited him a few days before Christmas, and I dressed up as Santa Clause and had some people come out, and I don't even know if he remembers that because he's kind of in and out."