Overcoming a fatal prognosis

On Christmas Day 2012 in his parents’ house in Cortland, David Barnes awoke at 5 a.m. to the clang of weights on a bar as it goes up and down.

The 23-year-old graduate of Kent State was hearing his younger brother, Ian, now a senior history education major at Geneva College, working out before the break of dawn to continue his workout regimen.

“(Ian) woke me up on Christmas with his lifting, and that’s how dedicated he is,” said David, who has been accepted into Harvard and Cal-Berkley law schools for next year. “He just has a dedication that far surpasses mine.”

This scene may seem innocent enough, an everyday situation. Yet, for Ian, this day could have never occurred. The 21-year-old Champion graduate, who will be turning 22 on Jan. 3, has dealt with two debilitating diseases in his young life – a gastrointestinal disease called Crohn’s disease and an eye disease called keratoconus.

Ian hasn’t let that get in his way, as he has kept his body in such great shape through bodybuilding, maxing out at 335 pounds on the bench press, while doing 18 repetitions at 225. He has also curled 135 pounds on a barbell with good form.

Muscle and Body magazine has featured him twice in the past couple of years, as well as various other media outlets. For these outlets and their audience, his story has proven to be inspirational.

Crohn’s and his fight to stay healthy

Ian’s first bout with Crohn’s began when his was 10 years old, one day after he participated in a little-league baseball game.

Ian couldn’t stop vomiting, so much so that his parents rushed him to the hospital. Originally thought to have food poisoning, it took a couple of days before doctors diagnosed him with a severe case of Crohn’s disease, along with E. coli.

Crohn’s disease is classified as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), one in which the immune system attacks harmless bacteria in the intestines. This causes chronic inflammation, which interrupts proper digestion and the breaking down of nutrients.

Ian had such a severe case of the disease that, along with the diagnosis of the E. coli virus, he wasn’t expected to survive.

“That was a very traumatic experience,” Ian said. “I just went from what seemed to be a perfectly healthy child to being told that you’re going to die. It’s a lot to take in, but one of the things that allowed me to overcome was that I came from a very supportive family.”

With the support of that family, Ian managed to return home, but he still had to go through flare-ups of the disease that are painful and would cause him to lose weight.

An athletic kid growing up, Ian said he wasn’t going to let that stop him, and one of his main goals when he returned home was to participate in sports again. Being around 20 months younger than his brother, David, Ian followed him into every athletic activity.

When David started picking up weight lifting, Ian did so at the same time, and both learned the ropes with a little guidance. Ian was 14 at the time.

“We got into sports at about the same time, and when I was a freshman in high school, lifting is something I did to help myself for basketball,” David said. “Since Ian and I were so close (in age), we practically did everything together, and we had been playing ball together since second grade – it was just kind of natural that he picked it up with me at the same time.”

Ian continued the weight lighting throughout high school, but his calling seemed to be basketball. As a Golden Flash, he earned first-team All-American Conference honors and went to Geneva College to play point guard.

One season after playing collegiate basketball, however, Ian hung up the basketball shoes and pursued body building, which fit into his schedule.

“With body building, I could kind of set my schedule better,” Ian said. “I can set a better routine for myself. Your schedule is a lot more flexible, and being a busy student who’s working his way through college, it’s easy to pursue body building compared to being a collegiate athlete.”

The diagnosis of keratoconus

One of the reasons why Ian gave up basketball came in his worsening vision, which halfway through his sophomore year had become split.

He saw an eye doctor and was diagnosed with keratoconus, a disease in which the cornea, normally dome-shaped, is shaped more like a cone because the collagen is too weak to keep the cornea in place, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.

For Ian, this meant he would eventually go blind, and despite all the struggles with Crohn’s early in his life, he said he broke down for the first time.

“One thing about my previous diagnosis with Crohn’s and E. coli, it taught me that I’m always going to have the support system behind me that I can rely on,” Ian said, “and I definitely relied upon that support system again to help me through my diagnosis with the eye disease.”

His parents, a large portion of his support system, found an answer for the 6-foot former point guard in a non-FDA approved surgery by Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler in Beverly Hills, Calif.

The problem was health insurance wouldn’t cover the operation, and the Barnes tried to find a way to finance it. They sent letters to Muscle and Body after the magazine had already written one story in a last-ditch effort.

That led to the television show, The Doctors, which needed a story to fill up a segment on blindness. The show called Ian’s mother and said Ian’s surgery could be discounted if he was willing to share his story on the show.

Thus, Ian went from being in a classroom at Geneva to southern California in a 24-hour period, having the experimental surgery to place intacs in his eyes to correct his vision.

“It was amazing how I went from having split vision to being able to correctively see,” Ian said. “Immediately after the surgery, my vision wasn’t split anymore, and it got better as the days went on.”

Inspirational role model

When Ian was in high school, he said he dreamed of becoming a public speaker or a role model for those suffering with Crohn’s disease. Following his eye surgery, the Champion graduate of 2010 said he wanted to raise awareness of keratoconus, too.

He’s already had plenty of people come to him so far. Following his appearance on The Doctors and another article printed in Muscle and Body, Ian has received hundreds of e-mails asking for his advice.

Ian said he talked to military members stationed overseas who are looking to meet fitness goals in order to earn a certain rank or promotion, while others have asked him to review medical records.

He also is lining up gigs as speaker and a member of the mentoring program for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, and he has a meeting with Deryck Toole’s Inspiring Minds Foundation in Warren.

“I’ve received hundreds of emails from people around the world asking for advice from various walks of life,” Ian said. “It’s just amazing how my story can be centrally focused enough to directly speak to people that have endured more pain than myself, but yet be wide enough in scope to motivate anyone who’s going through a struggle.”

Going into his final semester of college, Ian has a tough decision ahead of him. He could pursue a career as a history teacher, a life of which he will get a taste of when he does his student teaching this semester.

Ian also could pursue competitive bodybuilding. He has just signed a deal with BarnDad Innovative Nutrition, a health food company from Pittsburgh, Penn., which would allow him to have the finances to pursue it.

He doesn’t know if he wants to do it yet, however.

“At this moment right now, I’m struggling with whether I want to perpetuate the image of having an ideal figure and whether I want to put my body in the risk of competitive body building, where you’re putting your body down to below 2-percent body fat,” Ian said. “I would really like to consult with my doctors more in depth on the topic.”

No matter what decision he makes, one thing is for certain – you will find Ian in a weight room once per day if healthy.

“Lifting is something that I look forward to doing every day,” Ian said. “I try to limit stress in my life. Lifting releases stress. I can put my headphones in, listen to my favorite music, lace up my shoes and go at it. It’s a lot of fun.

“You get to meet a lot of good people along the way, too.”