‘Barils don’t give up’
He remembers almost everything about the crash. On May 15, Peter Baril and a friend headed south on Harrison Street in Davenport on his motorcycle. Just a few blocks north of church, a car pulled out in front of them.
“I remember making choices on where to put the bike,” Peter said. “I can remember hearing the crunch of the car. I can remember exactly what it sounded like.”
Then he can remember looking down and knowing that his life was going to change. Excruciating pain and a helicopter ride to Iowa City followed. The morphine wasn’t working. His family came to be by his side. Doctors amputated his right leg below the knee.
“I would do anything to take this all away,” mom Joan told her son. Peter looked at her. “Mom, I would do anything to take MS away from you.”
Steve and Joan Baril brought Peter home from Russia when hewas a baby. The story goes that he had a feisty spirit in him from theday he was born. A cleft palate meant that he had to fight to survive.
After he came home to the United States, the road to Iowa City was a well-worn one for the Barils, for surgeries and appointments at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Peter had a lot of medical attention while growing up. The family thought the trips to Iowa City were done.
Not so. Peter is now receiving care again in Iowa City as he works toward acclimating to his new prosthetic leg. How’s he doing? He means it when he says, “I’m fine.”
“I lost my leg. I’ll get a new one. It’s a little bit of a slow down. I don’t have to sit around and be worried. I can adapt.”
Meanwhile, shortly before the motorcycle crash, mom Joan finally received a definitive diagnosis for the health problems she has persistently sought answers for three years – she has primary progressive multiple sclerosis, or MS. Common symptoms include problems with walking, weak or stiff legs, and trouble with balance. So while her son gets a new leg, Joan is embarking upon a brand new treatment for her specific type of MS. It’s called Ocrevus, an IV medication. The belief is that it will stop or slow the progression of the disease.
“What have I learned in the process?” she wrote on Facebook when sharing that she was approved for the treatment. “Don’t give up. Particularly if your condition is progressive. No matter how polite and respectful you are, your tenacity will not always be appreciated. Second, find an advocate. In my case, this was Tonya Norgard, nurse extraordinaire. This (treatment) could be a game changer for me. I am grateful.”
Pushing forward is a common trait in the Baril family. Five years ago, before her health symptoms began to flair, Joan finished very last in the Quad City Triathlon. “But I finished. Barils do not give up.”
Matt Husnik is with American Prosthetics & Orthotics in Iowa City. He is working with Peter on his new leg.
“When we get the opportunity to work with someone like Peter, it’s exciting for us because we know how much potential there is,” he said. “I don’t think a prosthesis is going to limit someone like Peter. Ninety-nine percent of that has to do with Peter being Peter.”
Prosthetic technology has significantly improved outcomes in the past 20 years, Matt said. One particularly exciting development is what is known as The Cheetah, a prosthetic that is very effective for very active people. Peter may be a candidate for that type of device, Matt said. “We have people doing Zumba class and 10 mile hikes, farmers out in the field all day, construction workers, people going for a swim,” he said. “That’s the best part of my job. We’ll follow Peter for a long time, get to know him and his family well. He’s given me a list of his demands. It offers me a challenge.”
What are some of those demands? Peter wants to ski, go fishing and floating on the river, and have a career, perhaps as an electrician.
“My goal is to make him a prosthesis that will allow him to do what he wants to do,” Matt said.
Three things can make Peter Baril cry. One he won’t talk about. The other two are his grandma and his mom. The support that his family, which includes dad Steve and sister Mary, has received since the crash has been pretty overwhelming, too. The advancements that will positively impact their lives are not lost on the family.
“It’s amazing what science is doing for both of us,” Joan said. “There’s a lot of hope surrounding MS.”
And as for Peter? “He’s inspiring people, including me,” Joan said.