Two years ago, the Upstate New York Tea Party was right in the thick of things. The group's chairman, Mark Barie, became a major player in the congressional battle between incumbent Representative Bill Owens, a Democrat from Plattsburgh; Matt Doheny, a former Wall Street financier who now lives in Watertown; and Doug Hoffman, an accountant and businessman from Lake Placid.
In March 2011, Barie suffered a brain aneurism and three strokes. Today, in part one of a two-part series, Chris Morris looks at Barie's road to recovery as he prepares to re-enter what's sure to be a big political fight in the 23rd District.
For Oliver Barie, March 28, 2011, was one of the worst days of his life.
The 22-year-old, who lives in Plattsburgh, was working at Super Shoes when he received word that his father, Mark Barie, was having trouble breathing, experiencing a bad headache and throwing up.
Oliver says his first thought was that his dad was having a heart attack. But that wasn’t the case. On that day last March, Mark Barie suffered a brain aneurism, followed by three consecutive strokes.
At the CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh, Oliver says doctors immediately performed a CAT scan on his dad.
“And they found bleeding, and that’s when they said, ‘We’re going to Fletcher Allen,’” Oliver said. “So they brought him over to Vermont, and they still weren’t sure if it was an aneurism or not, but there was definitely bleeding of the brain. So by that time – there’s four kids in our family – all of us were at the hospital by then. We all drove over to Fletcher Allen.”
After doctors discovered the aneurism, Oliver says the primary concern became the risk of a stroke.
“All the blood in the brain almost massages the veins too much, causing them to close up – that was their biggest worry,” he said. “It was pretty scary; I’m not going to lie. We were all pretty emotionally drained out by the end of that day.”
The following day, more family members arrived in Burlington. Doctors performed an angiogram of Mark’s brain and found that the chance of a stroke was between 1 and 3 percent. Two hours later, Oliver says the family was feeling happy, although his mother was still concerned that they weren’t out of the woods.
“It was weird, because my mom had a feeling something wasn’t right,” he said. “And she went to go check in on dad, and the minute she went to go check in, a couple doctors rushed in and said, ‘He had a medical event.’ That was when he had the three strokes. I said goodbye to my dad that night, because we just weren’t sure. The doctors couldn’t give us any kind of answer. They didn’t know if he was going to make it to the next morning or not.”
As it turns out, that goodbye wasn’t necessary. Mark pulled through, despite the odds. Today, his speech is still slightly slurred. He says his recovery has been tough.
“I’m doing well. I’m still on disability. They won’t let me drive because I walk and talk like a drunk, especially when I get tired,” Mark said. “I’m exercising. I’m swimming four times a week. I’m up to 12 laps of the pool. My wife is my personal lifeguard; apparently, she thinks it would be very embarrassing if after a ruptured brain aneurism and three strokes, I drowned in 3 feet of water.”
The exercise is good for Mark’s body, but it doesn’t do much for his sense of balance. Regaining that, he says, will be a long journey.
“My body is kind of wrecked up,” he said. “I don’t have fine motor control or anything like that. I type really lousy, considering I typed really lousy before.”
Oliver says his dad’s is still the same outspoken, fiercely conservative activist he was before the strokes.
And Mark agrees.
“Despite a month in the hospital in Vermont, I came out as conservative as ever,” he said. “My mind is intact, unfortunately for my enemies.”
For North Country Public Radio, I’m Chris Morris