“Being told you’re going to die is a lot to handle,” Ian Barnes understates. At age 10, Ian was diagnosed with severe Crohn’s disease, a chronic immune disease. The symptoms were strong enough that doctors were convinced Ian couldn’t survive for long.
Even once this grim claim improved, doctors still told Ian that he would have a “limited lifestyle” due to his disease. “When your back’s against the wall like that, you have to decide to live life the way you want to live,” Ian states.
When he was 11, Ian began doing 500 ab crunches and push-ups every day, and today he continues to develop a tough exercise regime. Basketball initially attracted him to Geneva, and he played for the Golden Tornadoes during his freshman year before stopping to focus on bodybuilding.
Ian works at Geneva’s fitness center, and his job puts him in the middle of the iron-pumping action. “Ian has been an inspiration to countless people in the fitness center. He constantly is talking to people about personal fitness and cares deeply about the physical well being of others,” says Dan Williams ’07, Coordinator for Campus Fitness.
Ian was recently featured in the “Achiever” section of Muscle & Body magazine in December 2011. Although at one time any gain in weight and muscle would have been enough to shock Ian’s doctors, now he’s even considering a serious career in bodybuilding.
But Crohn’s disease isn’t the only obstacle Ian has overcome. His determination has carried him through many tough situations, including one that almost destroyed his physical focus, if not his mental one.
In junior year of high school, his vision was 20-20, but it began to slip during his senior year. Despite first staving off his degenerating eyesight with ever-increasing glasses prescriptions, Ian found his vision so bad in December of his sophomore year at Geneva that it split into two, making him see double. After a half-hour-long stint of trying to decide which prescriptions worked—none of them did—the doctor realized that Ian had keratoconus, a degenerative disorder that changes the shape of the cornea. According to the initial diagnosis, Ian would be blind within a couple years.
There was one way out, however: Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler, of Beverly Hills, Calif., had invented a procedure for treating keratoconus called Holcomb C3-R. It was too new to be FDA approved, so Ian’s insurance wouldn’t cover the cost. However, the CBS show The Doctors would.
In January 2012, just after finishing a Geneva class taught by Dr. Watt, Ian got a call. “Be at Beverly Hills in twelve hours if you want to have surgery done” was the gist of it. The Doctors had picked Dr. Wachler for an episode, and Ian would be the patient. Ian’s past history with Crohn’s returned to help him: with it, he stood out from among the other applicants.
“The professors were understanding with my last second plans and provided me time to make up the work I missed following my surgeries,” says Ian.
So thankfully, Ian and his mother were able to make the trip, and Ian got the surgery, which embedded part of a hard contact lens in each cornea. Now Ian’s back to his normal high-def vision. Better yet, his TV episode raised awareness for keratoconus, and those diagnosed have since risen, going from one in 2000 people to one in 500.
Ian’s medical troubles don’t define him. He loved sports before the Crohn’s diagnosis, and today, he’ll still play pick-up basketball “any time.” A history and secondary education major, Ian hopes to teach high school history one day, with a possible coaching position on the side.
Geneva has proven to be a friendly and accommodating school. In Ian’s words, Geneva is “an accepting environment for sure.”
“Other gyms back home are really competitive,” he explains. “Here at Geneva, it’s a supporting environment.” In fact, it’s enough to remind him of a Bible verse: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
-Adam Rowe ’14