Spirituality holds Airman up
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Waking up to three missed calls from his sister was alarming enough, but then he discovered his 10-year-old great-niece, Kyra, had been admitted to the hospital.
At first, Master Sgt. Wendell Barnes, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander support staff superintendent, assumed Kyra was being treated for her sickle-cell anemia because she was often in and out of the hospital for blood transfusions to replenish her red blood cells. But this time was different; the cause was intense head pain.
"It came as a surprise because the pain has only been in her joints and chest, but never in her brain or head," he said. "What made it worse was that she was screaming 'help me' and 'I can't take this.'"
Instead of assuming the cause of her pain was sickle-cell anemia, the doctor ran a number of tests, but determined the disease caused the red blood cells to be deficient in carrying oxygen to her head.
"At one point the doctor asked Kyra to measure her pain on a scale from one to 10 and she said 12," said Barnes. "They tried to alleviate the pain, but nothing worked."
Barnes was constantly waiting for news about his great-niece's condition.
"As a military member and senior NCO, I have so many responsibilities," he said. "I have several shops to worry about, customers to take care of and a personal life here."
The distance between him and his family made his great-niece's fight for health at the hospital more difficult.
"Not being able to see, touch or talk to her was awful," he said. "I couldn't do anything because I'm in Japan and they're stateside."
While in this state of anticipation, Barnes turned to his spiritual beliefs and faith in God.
"Since I was born, I've learned to pray for God's help because he's in control of everything," he said. "If we want something, all we have to do is ask, believe in his will and we will be taken care of."
From the moment Kyra was admitted to the hospital, Barnes and his siblings began praying.
"I'm not a doctor and I wasn't there to help with anything physically, so just believing God would take care of her eased my tensions so I could focus on what I needed to get done here," he said. "I supported my sister by giving her a confident voice."
Although there is no cure for sickle-cell anemia, Barnes knows of others who have it and are living productive lives with the illness.
"I believe if people are able to live with it, there will be a cure one day," he said.
Believing in a higher power has led to a trust in all outcomes of his life.
"Sooner or later we have a crisis in our lives that can come in any shape or form," said Maj. William Logan, 35th Fighter Wing deputy wing chaplain. "Having a belief in something bigger than ourselves to lean on empowers us, especially during the times we feel powerless."
Logan said personal faith and prayer carried Barnes' through this situation, both sustaining him and keeping his sense of belonging alive.
"Faith helps people realize what they can control in order to do something about it, and to let go of things outside their control," he said. "Prayer was able to prioritize what was really important for Barnes and his family during that time."
After nine days of pain and worry, Barnes said Kyra opened her eyes and said she was going to be ok because God said she would be.
"The doctors ran more tests to see if there was permanent brain damage, but there wasn't anything wrong," he said. "From the first to the tenth day in the hospital, we prayed and believed God was going to take care of her even if the worst happened and she passed or had irrevocable brain damage."
Barnes said he aspires to continue incorporating his faith first in all aspects of his life, whether through crisis situations or waking up and going to work.
"It puts things into perspective," he said. "I love what I do in the military, but it is temporary and my faith is forever."
By giving thanks and praise every day, Barnes knows he will continue down his life path knowing he belongs to something bigger.
"Spirituality affects all aspects of resiliency," said Logan. "The things done mentally, physically and socially all have a spiritual dimension to them. It's the fuel that runs the engine."