Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series about the stroke and recovery of Orient-Macksburg graduate Daniel Barnett, his wife Ann and their twin sons Jason and Clinton.
Daniel Barnett and his wife Ann started their relationship as high school sweethearts. They met in their youth group at First Baptist Church in Creston.
Daniel, 29, was a 2004 Orient-Macksburg graduate, cross country runner and could be found in the weight room most afternoons training for the shot put and discus for track and field.
Ann, 28, graduated from Creston High School in 2004.
They were married in 2008 and eventually moved south to Bethany, Mo., when Daniel started work as a Missouri State Trooper. Ann found a job with South Hampton as a kindergarten teacher.
The couple was expecting for the first time — twin boys Jason and Clinton — when their world was turned upside down after Daniel suffered a stroke from a blood clot around 4:30 a.m. Jan. 6.
“Daniel isn’t a wordy person,” said his mother Deloris Barnett. “He hasn’t expressed a lot, but we can see he really appreciates and loves Ann deeply and Ann has definitely leaned on the Lord for strength.”
Daniel’s right side and speech were hindered after a second blood clot caused bleeding and inflammation of his brain. He spent almost two months in intensive care, hospital rooms and rehab before being allowed to return home with his wife and new baby boys Feb. 24.
But getting the clearance to return home was not the final hurdle in the Barnett family’s journey as they work together to balance therapy sessions and raise Jason and Clinton.
Megan Turk, a physical therapist at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, said Daniel’s rehab process started while he was still sedated and recovering from the second blood clot.
“The first day Dan was awake I was able to move him and have him actively participate,” Turk said. “We went from laying to sitting and working on his balance there to standing and taking a couple of steps.”
Soon Daniel was back to walking with assistance and started to regain some of the strength and feeling on his right side.
In addition to his occupational and physical therapy, Daniel had speech therapy to help him sort out words, work on his memory with projects similar to the game Taboo and learn how to write left handed.
“I was right handed, but I am left handed now,” Daniel said. “I didn’t struggle with eating (left handed), but doing the writing has been the hardest.”
Ann was induced into labor in Kansas City Feb. 21 in the same hospital Daniel was staying. During that first weekend, his therapist moved the therapy session to Ann’s room so Daniel could practice holding the boys and doing daily tasks like feeding or changing a diaper.
“We joked with him all the time because no first-time dad knows what to expect,” Turk said. “We were able to help him in both capacities (rehab and being a father) so he could still be the dad he wanted to.”
The quartet moved home Feb. 24. Deloris and Ann’s mother Susan Walker helped with the transition of helping their children be first-time parents.
“I feel like it was a blessing that we could be available as much as we have,” Deloris said. “We have had time to spend with the boys and we have been there to help Daniel and Ann with the transition of being back home.”
But trying to establish a schedule and keep track of who was visiting, when therapy was and most importantly what the twins needed both Daniel and Ann described as chaos.
“What was frustrating was it felt like the house had a revolving door on it,” Ann said. “We had people in to do home therapy, I was trying to take care of the babies, plus do exercises with Daniel and then you have two wonderful, well-meaning moms with you. It was quite the adjustment.”
As Daniel and Ann adjusted, Deloris and Susan were more confident their children could handle the day-to-day tasks on their own and started giving the family 24 hours alone, then full weekends and eventually just visits to help with babysitting.
The Barnett family found themselves back in the hospital June 12. Jason had to have surgery to repair a hernia, but quickly recovered and returned home.
“I’ve noticed and been very thankful for the strength they have had,” Susan said. “They have not allowed themselves to be discouraged.”
Each morning after breakfast as a family, Daniel works on a couple of strength exercises from home. He does balancing drills, pushups and planks.
“I read the Bible every day,” Daniel said. “It is how you look at the situation. You always struggle with the why of it all. Why me and definitely why now.”
They spend time playing with Jason and Clinton until lunch. Daniel wears a brace in the early afternoon for his hand and practices his speech, memory and writing lessons.
“His right hand wants to curl up,” Ann said. “He can’t open his hand with all the muscles fighting against him.”
During the afternoon Ann also makes phone calls with insurance companies and doctors to keep schedules straight and make sure their visits are still covered.
“The insurance company counts speech, occupational physical therapy each as one of our days,” Ann said. “If we keep doing physical and speech therapy, then we would run out of days even if we didn’t go to occupational therapy.”
Technology has made traveling to therapy visits very important in Daniel’s journey to recovery. He uses a SabeoFlex — a spring-loaded device — to retrain and strengthen his right hand and another electronic device to send electric signals through his leg to help his heel strike first.
“If we can use these devices more and more, it will transfer over and the brain will relearn how to make the movement,” Ann said. “I am hoping that it wakes up those muscles.”
In the evening, Daniel and Ann go for walks at the local track while family or friends babysit the twins.
“I am up to a mile, roughly,” Daniel said.
Then it is time to put the twins to bed and rest up for another busy day.
“The twins are the centerpoint, and we just work around that,” Ann said. “It is pretty much like any other person’s day, just with Daniel’s exercises added in.”
While there is no telling what Daniel will eventually be able to relearn after his stroke, the encouraging thing is that there is rarely a limit either.
“No two strokes are the same because no two brains are the same,” Turk said. “Most recovery comes back within the first six months to two years, but with someone as motivated as Dan, there is no limit.”
Daniel’s main goal is to learn how to drive again, which will take a lot of work getting his leg, ankle and heel responsive and mobile. He also wants to get back to work.
“Most dad’s do not get the chance to bond with their children (early on because of work, etc.),” Deloris said. “We have encouraged him to take advantage of the situation and use that as encouragement.”
Turk said the couple shares the same dynamics and playfulness you would normally see in new parents.
Ann is still working to get more access to the technology that helps Daniel during therapy sessions and is hopeful they can use the SabeoFlex from home.
“Everyone has been so supportive,” Ann said. “People from the Creston area, people from the Bethany community, our employers, we are really thankful for everyone’s support.”
You can follow updates on Daniel, Ann, Jason and Clinton on their Facebook page Pray for Dan Barnett.