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Archive for Tuesday, August 24, 2010

After amputation, Lawrence firefighter defies odds

Determination to recapture dream inspires colleagues

Lawrence firefighter Earl Barnes lost the lower part of his right leg after a motorcycle accident in 1997. Barnes thought he would never be a firefighter again, but 14 months and eight surgeries later, Barnes was back in the firehouse with a prosthetic leg.

Lawrence firefighter Earl Barnes lost the lower part of his right leg after a motorcycle accident in 1997. Barnes thought he would never be a firefighter again, but 14 months and eight surgeries later, Barnes was back in the firehouse with a prosthetic leg.

August 24, 2010

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Firefighter rebounds after debilitating injury claims part of his leg

Earl Barnes thought his firefighting career might be over after he was hit while riding his motorcycle and lost part of his leg. But thanks to physical therapy and a desire to be back on the job, he's continuing his 13-year stint in the force. Enlarge video

“It was like a dream.”

That’s how Earl Barnes describes the motorcycle accident that cost him the lower part of his right leg. Before the accident, he was doing what he had wanted to do since he was a child: He was a firefighter.

“It’s a funny thing about firefighters,” he said. “It’s something we grew up wanting to do and can’t hardly imagine doing anything else.”

Barnes’ life and career were put in jeopardy the day after his 25th birthday in September 1996. A car T-boned Barnes’ motorcycle at the intersection of Sixth Street and Folks Road. His leg got caught between the bike’s engine block and the car’s bumper. The last thing he remembers is waking up at Kansas University Hospital.

“The nurse there had to explain several times what happened, just with the fog of anesthesia and the shock of this happening,” he said. Doctors were initially able to save the heel portion of his right foot, but Barnes developed a bone infection and the foot was completely amputated.

It was at that point Barnes said he thought he would never be a firefighter again. He remembered spending “several months in both the hospital bed and at home staring at the ceiling wondering what in the world I could do.”

But thanks to the support of family and fellow firefighters, and with the help of some innovative surgery, Barnes began the long road to recapturing his dream. But could he and should he do it?

“There were enough people through there that would tell me, ‘You know what? This is a bad idea, how about you not do it?’” he said. “I would have listened to them, but everybody said, ‘You know what? You have that look about you; you need to finish this.’”

Fourteen months and eight surgeries later, Barnes was back in the firehouse with a prosthetic leg.

“I was on when he was hurt and I honestly didn’t think he’d be able to (come back),” said Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Lt. Kathy Elkins.

Barnes’ fire suit and boots are custom designed to help him dress quickly when the alarm sounds.

“I look at him as just one of the guys,” said Paramedic Lt. Joe Hardy. He and Barnes were in the same recruitment class 13 years ago.

Today, Barnes can do everything that is asked of him. He has participated in four triathlons since his return and enjoys other physical activities, such as scuba diving.

Elkins said he hasn’t lost a step.

“To come back and do this job with what he’s been through,” she said, “it’s really inspirational.”

Comments

frankfussman 4 years, 3 months ago

Some truly wonderful medical care. I imagine the Lawrence fighters union has made sure its members get maximum coverage. Too bad most of us do not benefit from this kind of insurance. We would just have to get by with whatever we have...or have fund-raisers as are noted in the Journal-World from time to time.

salad 4 years, 3 months ago

Clearly you can't read. She/He said: "Too bad most of us do not benefit from this kind of insurance. We would just have to get by with whatever we have...or have fund-raisers as are noted in the Journal-World from time to time." I'll try and use small words so even cheeseburgers can understand: The point is that MOST people don't have such generous insurance, that would provide for that kind of a prothesis and rehab. The kind of prosthesis this guys has cost $20,000+, along with all the surgeries and rehab, I'm sure it's right around half a million dollars to get this guy back to work. I think it's fabulous that we have the ability to get this fellow rider back on his feet; truely inspirational. Why shouldn't everyone have this kind of coverage? And more importantly, why should his employer have to bear the burden for that kind of expensive coverage??? Very few of us own our own aircraft, but we all pay for the system of government supported small airports and flight service stations across the country all bought with your tax dollars. That doesn't seem to be a problem, but providing healthcare for all americans is????

Kash_Encarri 4 years, 3 months ago

See hail2oldku's post below. With the other driver at fault, it wasn't Barnes' health insurance covering most of those costs.

salad 4 years, 3 months ago

The current system only works if you're lucky enough to be part of it. Confined to a wheel chair is what happens to the unemployed and the under insured, but hey! Thanks for supporting the status quo! Spoken like a true Repugnican. Pray you never get sick.

hail2oldku 4 years, 3 months ago

Way to take a great story about perseverance and living ones dream and turn it into something political frank and lg40.

Knowing the rest of the story might help you a little frank. The other driver was at fault, having failed to yield (funny how often that happens to people on motorcycles) so I would imagine their auto policy had to cover the majority of the costs for Earl's surgeries and rehab.

At any rate, way to make it all the way back Earl. Thanks for your service in Fire/Med and for all the volunteer work that you and Cristal do around town.

greenworld 4 years, 3 months ago

Wow, I was a volunteer firefighter N of lawrence for years and quit after I didnt really have time to do it and it started to be not in my heart anymore. After reading this I might change my mind and pursue fulltime opportunities as a firefighter. Thanks for the story, it may change my life.

kernal 4 years, 3 months ago

Eight surgeries in fourteen months and already back to work? Amazing and inspiring story.

Ken Harris 4 years, 3 months ago

The accident happened in the '90s, not in 2006.

Celeste Plitz 4 years, 3 months ago

The picture caption said the accident happened in 2006 and described the 14 months and 8 surgeries. The article said the accident was in 1996, that's a bit confusing.

Either way, wow. What dedication and strength of character! Too bad more kids don't look up to people like this instead of Hollywood brats.

akt2 4 years, 3 months ago

There is no reason that an amputee has to be confined to a wheelchair. Once a person goes through physical rehabilitation, they are able to function and resume their life. Many people lose limbs because of accidents and diabetes. They do not sit the rest of their lives out in wheelchairs, regardless of medical insurance. If they are unable to pay, we have social programs that do. It is amazing to see a person that has had an amputation walk in the door. Knowing the hours of physical therapy required, and the determination the person has. These people also have some of the best attitudes and outlooks on life. When you witness things like this, you tend to care less about the small things that so many people dwell on, and whine about.

filmguru 4 years, 3 months ago

Excellent story. Makes me feel like a wuss for complaining about my office job.

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