troke survivor Eric Barr rolls
onstage in his wheelchair
and raises his good right
arm above his head and
proclaims, “I’m alive!
I’m alive!” There is huge
applause. He pauses, then
adds, “It’s so good to see
you all here, in the theater,
rather than at my funeral!”
Indeed, Eric’s presence anywhere
— much less on a stage in front of 500
people — is miraculous by any measure.
Only one year before, in April 2013, he
had been fighting for his life in a hospital,
and not given much of a chance of winning that battle.
Unbeknownst to him or his doctors, the staph
infection that put him in the hospital had entered his
body in April 2012, during his first open-heart surgery to
replace his aortic valve and remove an aortic aneurysm.
Everything seemed to go fine. He and wife Karen Genet
returned to their ranch in Mountain Center, California,
and went back to their lives — she as a jewelry designer
and he as a professor of acting and directing and
chairman of the theatre department at University of
A self-described gym rat and practitioner of aikido,
he also kept horses and rode regularly in the San Jacinto
Mountains adjacent to the ranch. In other words, at 61, he
was in good shape. And he loved his work as a teacher. “I
had been teaching 37 years when I retired in 2014,” he said.
But the looming infection did not pay any heed to
ONE YEAR AFTER A NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE AND THREE
this, it just grew silently. In February and March 2013,
At Stanford, the infectious disease team wanted him
to have two more days of “nuclear-strength antibiotics,”
Karen said. “The cardiac team wanted to operate
immediately. The neurosurgeons were concerned that the
blood thinners required for the surgery would result in
hemorrhagic strokes.” There had already been a second
stroke in the right side of his brain.
STROKES, THIS PROFESSOR OF ACTING ROLLED ON STAGE
TO DO A ONE-MAN SHOW ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCE.
Eric and his wife Karen Genet in 2006