September 17, 2014

Medina
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Community Connection: Former teacher deals with spinal injury

By Angela Huston

Special to The Gazette

Editor’s note: Today we’re introducing Community Connection, a new monthly feature that focuses on insights and stories of local individuals from all walks of life.

MEDINA — On July 22, 2008, 61-year-old Vietnam veteran Al Barge and his wife, Brenda, found themselves facing a 180-degree change in their lives.

The retired Buckeye High School English teacher of 30 years, who enjoyed building and doing repairs for his family and others, fell from a roof and broke his neck.

The calm, unbelievably positive Barge was near death twice during his three-and-a-half month stay in the hospital with C-6 Tetraplegia, a type of paraplegia with limited upper body movement.

He returned home Nov. 5, but an infection sent him to the emergency room shortly thereafter.

As workmen moved about their home customizing areas to accommodate his condition, Al and Brenda Barge spoke about their situation and the necessary adjustments they are making in their Medina home.

What is your personal focus each day?

Al Barge: Getting well. I can’t use my fingers, but I can get on the computer with tools and hunt and peck. I’m still a pretty positive thinker. The accident is what it is, something I have to deal with and move on. It will be a different lifestyle, but we’ve always been hard workers, and we’ll continue to be.

What are the chances of regaining the use of your legs?

Al: Nothing is impossible. I have a lot of faith, but spinal injuries are all different, so it might be 12 to 18 months before some function returns.

How do you try to bring about physical changes?

Al: I get my brain to think about moving body parts. Every day I concentrate my thoughts on getting even a toe to move. A lot of the “wires” were damaged, so my brain has to make new pathways, and I have to make those pathways work for me. It’s mind over matter right now.

What are you able to do by yourself?

Al: I can feed myself, use my shaver, brush my teeth. With the vocational rehab program I plan to get back into tutoring, maybe even do some writing.

Brenda Barge: Perhaps he’ll begin some tutoring after the holidays.

Do you take a lot of medication?

Al: I take about five different pills four times a day. I have low blood pressure, and I still have to deal with spasms.
How fortunate you have a nurse for a wife.

Al: (Laughing) Oh, I planned it that way. I always said I was going to marry a nurse and have two children, a boy and a girl. Of course, I didn’t plan to fall —but stuff happens.

Brenda: I’m trying to get him into a clinical trial through Case-Western Reserve. We’re hopeful for a cure.

Describe your goals.

Al: My primary goal now is to build up my upper body so I can make transfers (chair to chair) on my own, and get some use from my lower body. I want to be able to make do with what I have, though, be prepared if I am confined to a wheelchair. I know I can still be a productive member of society.

Have you established any kind of timeline for yourself?

Al: It’s all up to God and me. I plan to get to the point where I can swing a hammer or paint brush. Eventually, I want to be able to go upstairs, either walking or in a chair lift, and drive.
Brenda: Because of his attitude, lots of people are looking to Al expectantly with high hopes.

You have such a positive attitude.

Al: I’ve always felt blessed, but even more so now. I’ve learned what true love of family and friends is. Something like this makes you stop taking people and things for granted.

Barge said he never realized how many wonderful friends they have.

He truly believes their thousands of prayers have been a big factor in his progress.

He says sincerely, “Keep praying, I’ll be fine.”

Huston may be reached at areanews@ohio.net. If you know someone in the Medina County community who you would like to nominate for the Community Connection feature, call Accent Editor Kristen Nowak Winn at 330-721-4053 or e-mail accent@ohio.net.