Carson’s Barnes playing pain free for first time
Brian Barnes can finally stand upright for long periods of time pain-free.
For most people, it probably doesn’t sound like a big deal; something we obviously take for granted. For Barnes, a junior basketball star at Carson High School, it means the world.
As a child and teenager, Barnes suffered from Scheuermann’s Disease, a self-limited skeletal disorder. It causes vertebrae to grow unevenly, meaning the anterior angle of the back is often greater than the posterior. The disease ranges from mild to a severe life-threatening deformity. According to doctors, the disease is multifactoral, but there is a genetic component involved, too. It shows up as a mild hunch in the upper back, which was the case with Barnes.
“My back has bothered me for a long time,” said Barnes who has played basketball competitively since fourth grade and last year was an All-Sierra League selection. “It was a nagging kind of thing. I couldn’t stand for long periods of time. Having the surgery was going to fix it for good. It wasn’t a disability thing, it was just sore and achy all the time.
“The doctor said it wasn’t bad enough to have surgery (any earlier). Every year I went back to see him, it was getting worse.”
That meant major surgery, and usually that’s a scary thing for most people.
“I actually wasn’t nervous before I went in,” Barnes said. “As it got closer, I didn’t know what it was going to be like.”
His dad and coach, Bruce Barnes, experienced completely opposite feelings.
“It’s your kid, so I felt helpless when they wheeled him away,” the elder Barnes said. “Anytime you are under anesthesia for a long period of time it’s a risk.
“It was his choice. He could have not had surgery, but then he would have been in pain the rest of his life. He was in pain all the time.”
The surgery, which was performed by Dr. Jay Halki II on March 5, meant cutting open Barnes’ back from top to bottom, from the T2 vertebrae to the T12 vertebrae, which is all but one of the thoracic vertabraes that make up the middle protion of your back.
According to Barnes, the surgery normally lasts approximately four hours. Halki installed two rods, one on each side of the spine, and 24 screws, about an inch in length. The rods and screws will stay in Barnes’ back permanently.
Unfortunately, there were complications. Barnes started losing blood, and lots of it. He ended up being on the operating table for nearly seven hours.
“They had to keep stopping,” Barnes said. “They had to give me something to make more blood.
“Being asleep for that long and not having any control over what was happening to you, it was kind of freaky when I woke up.”
Barnes was in the hospital for a week, and was out of school for approximately a month. He had to use a walker to get around initially.
“I couldn’t hold myself up well enough to walk,” he said. “They separated all the muscles in my back. I stopped using the walker a couple of days before I went back to school. When I got back to school, I couldn’t wear a backpack because of the weight. I had a little cart that I put my books in.”
Walking was about the only activity Barnes could do, and even that was painful at the beginning. No basketball. No weightlifting. No running.
“For about five months he wasn’t allowed to do anything,” said Bruce Barnes. “Recovery time is about a year. He didn’t have to wait that long.”
Barnes lost about 25 pounds in just a few weeks after he left the hospital.
“I was on a strictly fluid diet,” Barnes said. “The painkiller they gave me made me throw up and that killed my appetite. I didn’t eat anything unless it was wet.”
The younger Barnes admitted that he thought he might miss the season.
“It was hard to imagine being able to do anything when I tried walking day after,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d have time to get back in shape, to be able to run. I lost physical strength because I was never able to get into the weight room. Once I started to work out, though, things came back to me faster than I thought they would. I think I was 85 percent at the start of the year and now I’m 100 percent.”
Barnes said his strength and balance were the last things to come back.
“It was major surgery and it took a lot out of him,” said Carlos Mendeguia, the Senators’ veteran assistant coach. “Last year he was the strongest on the team.”
If you watched Barnes play this season, you might notice a small difference, and that’s in his shooting stroke.
“The trajectory of his shot is higher,” said coach Barnes. “Before he was hunched. It has changed his whole release. We’ve stayed after practice to work on it.
“He missed spring and summer. He couldn’t play for five months and then it was time for the season. It was a big adjustment and we don’t have time to fix a lot of things during the season because we play so many games. To see where he’s come since the surgery is quite remarkable.”
Barnes is averaging a respectable 10.3 a game. His productivity hasn’t been quite as consistent this year, and the reasons are two-fold. The first is his health and the second is that he gets a lot more attention from opposing defenses.
He has still managed to score in double-figures nine times this season, including two games of more than 20 points.
“The first two years we had good leadership with Matt (Rutledge) and Paul (Cagle),” the elder Barnes said. “Brian wasn’t the focal point of the offense. They couldn’t concentrate on him. Now, coaches strategize to slow him down. He doesn’t have as much time to get ball off sometimes.
“Matt was a mature kid. He would tell Brian where to go and what to do. He made sure Brian got the ball where he could be successful.”
This is Barnes’ third year of playing for his father, and that’s not an easy task. When he makes a mistake on the court he gets yelled at or other times has to endure an icy stare if he’s on the other side of the floor.
“I’ve coached for 20 years and he’s played for me the last three years,” said the elder Barnes. “I’m tough on him. He’s my son so I can say things to him that I don’t say to other players. I can be as hard on him as I want, but when he comes home I’m dad and he’s my son.”
That doesn’t always mean some feelings don’t find their way home.
“Sometimes things carry over during the season,” Brian Barnes said. “When I was a freshman (on varsity), I’m sure there were some things said. I didn’t pay much attention. Anybody that goes to the games can see that none of us get special treatment.”
Brian Barnes is looking forward to the spring and summer where he can work on his game and have a breakout senior season. And, as of right now, that will be his last year of competitive basketball.
“I don’t think I will (play collegiately),” he said, admitting he still doesn’t know what his field of study will be. “I’m going to focus on schoolwork and take a break. I’ve been playing competitively since I was in fourth grade.”
And, that’s fine with dad.
“He’s a phenomenal student,” the elder Barnes said. “He carries a 4.4. His focal point is his studies and that’s the way it should be.”