Barton, now 21, is a 2010 graduate of Point Loma High School who was singled out, for no clear reason, by a former CalFire firefighter whose San Diego crime spree was aimed at killing any former police officers who had arrested him. Barton was not in law enforcement and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As he walked down a Balboa Park area street in the early morning Oct. 29, Barton was shot three times from behind and left for dead in the street.
A team of Mercy Hospital trauma doctors, led by neurologist Dr. Vikram Udani, decided to work on Barton despite the bleak initial assessment that Barton could not be saved.
One bullet that went through Barton’s right shoulder severed main arteries, nearly causing him to bleed out. This bullet caused the problems he is currently experiencing with his body’s right side. Another bullet remains lodged in his brain and bullet fragments are scattered throughout his upper body.
Since that horrific night, Barton’s fighting spirit and positive attitude have stunned medical doctors and physical therapists as he continues to prove their grim predictions wrong.
Asked to rate his progress to date on a full-recovery scale of 1-10, Barton gave himself a 4.5.
Based on Barton’s miraculous progress, he has, with mother Marie, stepfather RT Lonsdale and friends started the “Strong Will Foundation,” which will host its first annual golf tournament Friday, Nov. 4 at The Crossings in Carlsbad.
The entry fee is $175 per golfer, which includes play and an after-party in the clubhouse featuring a live auction and raffle items, including vacation packages, sports memorabilia, artwork and more. Party-only tickets are available for $40.
A helicopter ball drop and putting contest are among many other prize opportunities during the professionally organized event.
Barton, sitting on a couch at his family’s Bankers Hill-area home recently, with a renewed sparkle in his eyes, reeled off his proudest accomplishments since The Peninsula Beacon’s last update five months ago.
“I’ve changed exponentially,” said Barton.
The areas of improvement, according to Barton:
• Balance: “Much better. I can get up and stand unassisted for several minutes.”
• Level of assistance: “People helping me only have to bear about 10-20 percent of my weight now compared to 50 percent before.”
• Standing and walking: “I’m walking on my own and just need a little guidance on where I’m going and where I am in space.”
• Right arm: “I’ve started moving the wrist and fingers of my right arm. They said the arm was going to turn black and be like a dead limb. This gives me great hope that I’ll get full return in that arm, which would be amazing.”
By contrast, five months ago, Barton could not get up, stand on his own or walk.
Looking ahead, Barton said therapists will be working on strengthening his hamstring muscles, which are among those that have atrophied during his ordeal. Barton noted his condition is known as hemiparesis, a weakness of muscles on one side of the body that typically follows a stroke or serious head injury — both of which he endured.
“I’ll continue to strengthen those muscles, walk around the house, and then become a community walker on the sidewalks,” he said. “My infinite goal is to get back to the things I used to do [like] swimming, surfing, riding my bike and skateboarding, just so I could cruise around San Diego and say ‘Hi’ to all the people who helped me through my recovery and show them how well I’m doing.”
Barton’s rehabilitation schedule is time-consuming. He has daily sessions at Sharp Hospital in Kearny Mesa and visits a new, high-tech facility in the Miramar area called VIP Neuro Rehab that uses machinery made in Switzerland and Germany to treat persons with movement issues.
He is also being treated in a third program using a strategy called Feldenkrais Method for Somatic Education. This involves helping the brain increase movement patterns of the body through repeated stimulation.
Barton will attend the golf tournament and is hoping for a big response from the community.
For tournament signups, visit www.birdeasepro.com/StrongWill. For more information, call Jeff Harrison at (619) 846-9995.
• Tournament organizers say entrants will receive gifts and merchandise worth $350 for their $175 entry fee.
• On-site registration begins at 9 a.m. with golfers teeing off at 11:30 a.m. Evening events begin with a cocktail hour at 5 p.m.
• Sponsorships, starting at $250, are available for everything from golf cart signage to tournament naming rights.
Nonprofit foundation created to help patients with similar needs
It was a phone call Oct. 29 that turned their lives upside down.
When Marie Najera Lonsdale and RT Lonsdale learned their energetic, easy-going son had been shot multiple times and left for dead on a San Diego street, it was the end of life as they’d known it.
“Doctors thought I would be catatonic,” Barton recalls, “hooked up to a respirator and being fed just enough liquids to sustain life.”
Barton describes his recovery outlook as “a huge light at the end of the tunnel.”
As the one-year anniversary of the shooting approaches, Barton called it a “bittersweet kind of thing, an anniversary of me pretty much dying. I’m extremely happy and thankful that I’m still alive and able to sit here on the couch and talk to you. Terrible things like this happen every day, but miracles happen every day, as well.”
Najera Lonsdale described her insurance plan as a “60/40” program, leaving her responsible for huge portions of the massive medical bills.
First, there were several weeks in the intensive-care unit at Scripps Mercy Hospital, followed by more weeks in a regular hospital room. Next came the first of several rehabilitation facilities as Barton’s medical condition improved.
Finally, insurance companies delivered the dreaded message: they would not pay for any further stays in facilities. The couple had to bring their son home.
Some quick remodeling of their Bankers Hill home gave Barton access to a bedroom and bathroom. A strong metal ramp was added to the steep stairs leading from a walkway to the front door.
And, despite all their difficulties, they found time to think of others. Thus, was born the nonprofit organization The Strong Will Foundation.
While it takes a year to receive tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code, Lonsdale said, “all of the paperwork has been filed.”
“Even when I’m fully independent, I’d like to better myself by helping other people,” said Barton, now 21. ”Having a traumatic brain injury or paralysis is lonely because you are the only person who can help yourself get better. You have people helping, but you are the only person motivating yourself.”
The Strong Will Foundation is designed help persons in such situations by providing a support group and family around those trying to rehabilitate their bodies.
A 90-minute treatment at one of Barton’s several providers is $140 and he visits that facility twice per week. Lonsdale estimated Barton’s current costs at $1,800 a week when caregivers’ costs are included.
With the current golf tournament as its first fundraiser, Barton himself will be the initial benefactor of the foundation.
“As I need less and less help, we hope to make a smooth transition to continue fundraising for others who could use our help as they go through rehab,” Barton said.
That first person will be an 8-year-old local girl who is currently in rehabilitation. The foundation plans to pay for one month of her treatment at VIP Neuro Rehab with the golf tourney proceeds.