Bill Barnawell running marathon for his ill daughter

8:45 PM, Apr 4, 2013   |    comments
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By Mike Bush

ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - On any given day it would not be unusual to see this man running in Forest Park. But up until recently, it's not something Bill Barnawell saw himself doing.

"I've always had problems with my knees," said Barnawell. "I didn't think it was anything that I could do so I didn't even try."

When this former firefighter moved to St. Louis from Georgia in January 2011, he weighed over 300 pounds.

"I did a lot of sitting around," he said.

It wasn't a love for exercise that changed his lifestyle; it was love for his daughter.

Eight-year-old Bell is back at St. Louis Children's Hospital for another photopheresis treatment.

"They take my blood, they take pictures of it," she explained. "Then they put it back in me"

Over the last couple of years, she's spent almost as much time here as the doctors and nurses.

Born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects the lungs often making it difficult to breathe, the Barnawells moved to St. Louis to wait for her best option to stay alive. A lung transplant.

"It was really scary to kiss her goodbye and send her off into an operating room not knowing whether or not she's going to come back," said her dad.

The surgery went well, the recovery did not. First there was an infection, then rejection. Bell's body was saying no to her new lungs.

"What's important about this is that she had MERSA and that was the complication that we had a very difficult time controlling," explained Dr. Peter Michelson of St. Louis Children's Hospital.

Bell had to be hooked up to a heart and lung machine to help her breathe and as Bill watched by her bedside, he thought he was asking her to do the impossible.

"So I made a promise to her," he says. "I made her a promise that I thought was impossible. I told her I'd run a marathon."

After training for a year and losing 134 pounds in the process, that's exactly what he did.

"He's doing it for me," said Bell. "And even though it's not compared to how much pain I go through he tries to make it that way."

The Barnawells may hope for tomorrow but they live for today. The photopheresis treatments are helping Bell's blood minimize the organ rejection. But nothing is helping more than her attitude.

"The fact that she's been through so much and is still willing to take on the next challenge and do so with a smile really makes it worthwhile," said Dr. Michelson.

And Bill continues to run. He calls the last mile of every race, Bell's mile.

"I run every mile to get there and that's the one I don't quit on," he said.

And the only finish line is his daughter's health.


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