The Andy Barela Story
Andy Barela is a family man. Andy, a custodian at Niwot High School in Longmont, Colorado, and his wife of 23 years, Mary, have three boys, Andrew (22) , Cody (18) and Dalton (14). Andrew and Cody have graduated from Longmont high, where Dalton is attending as a Freshman.
In 2011, Andy’s life changed dramatically – he was diagnosed with cancer.
Initially, in March of 2011, Andy just started feeling ill. He found it tiresome to go up the stairs (routinely at work). He went for a checkup, though he is not the type to hassle with doctor visits. The doctors found he had pneumonia, but Andy figured he should get a full work up, including blood work, while he was there.
Within a few days, Andy was back in for tests concerning his cell counts. After just a few more visits, he was told he had Stage 3 colon and rectal cancer with two significantly sized tumors. He quickly began a six-month regime of aggressive radiation and chemotherapy, with the hopes of reducing the tumors for surgical removal.
By May 2011, things were really looking up, and Andy set his sights on a triumphant return to his job at Niwot High School. September brought more surgery, and initial success. He began his recovery. By February of 2012, Andy was declared “cancer free” and officially in remission. For the next five years, he would visit the doctor’s office every six weeks to have his blood monitored and to have his ostomy port flushed.
But Andy’s life took yet another turn. A routine ileostomy procedure turned life-threatening. An ileostomy creates an opening in your belly wall to allow for waste to be moved out of the body when the colon or rectum is not working properly. The installation was initially effective, but complications quickly developed and Andy battled Sepsis.
Sepsis occurs when the body has a severe reaction to bacteria or germs, and it is often life threatening, especially in people like Andy with a weakened immune system or a long-term illness. Sepsis may cause long-term damage to vital organs such as the brain, heart, and kidneys. Andy required four additional surgeries in just 10 days to become stable and get the Sepsis under control.
Not all patients survive an episode of sepsis, and there were moments he was told he might not.
Andy fortunately survived, but his finances took another hard hit. Andy was at further risk of losing what benefits he had, and his medical costs had already decimated savings and vacation and emptied his “paid-leave” all out.
Andy’s oldest son, Andrew, stepped in to help by taking over his father’s custodial job at Niwot High School. Andrew and Cody live at home, work jobs, and contribute to family expenses today, paying the utility bills each month. The Barela’s landlord has extended grace to the family, allowing them to maintain their residence while now being 12-months behind in rent.
All of this in mind, and still, Andy will tell you that his is grateful and that his illness and this journey have brought his family together and strengthened them.
Andy Barela is a man of faith. He will tell anyone who listens that he’s not mad about what happened to him. He never believed any of his doctors who said “you may not make it,” and refuses to ask why this happened to him. He considers this “his journey,” and his decision was to be optimistic, to accept the twists and turns, to love his family and friends, and to fight.
Andy Barela is an amazing example of the Happy Smackah spirit. Those who know him, know this. Those who meet him, learn it quickly.
The Happy Smackah family of sponsors and volunteers are honored and proud to support Andy Barela as the 2013 Happy Smackah. We thank you for your help and support in any way that you are capable – by participating in our Happy Smackah 5k Fun Run on May 11th, through a General donation, through Sponsorship or by Volunteering.