Lynnsey Barnes: Help on the long, slow road to recovery -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Lynnsey Barnes: Help on the long, slow road to recovery

Lynnsey Barnes, 28, is recovering from surgery to remove a tumor from her brain. Her son, Cody, is an “A” student and a huge help around the house.

About a year after losing everything to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Lynnsey Barnes started having severe headaches and numbness in her face. Doctors attributed the problems to high blood pressure and put Barnes on medication, but the symptoms got worse and worse.

“I started losing my balance a lot,” said Barnes, 28. “I knew something was wrong.”

She woke up before dawn one morning with an excruciating headache.

“I thought I would just take a bath and a few aspirin and go back to bed,” she said. “But after the bath I started seeing spots, and then I couldn’t see anything at all. And then I couldn’t walk.”

She was rushed to the hospital, where doctors discovered a tumor on her brain. Surgeons were able to remove the tumor, and Barnes has been in the long, slow process of rehabilitation ever since.

“At first I couldn’t feed myself or anything,” said Barnes. “Now I can pretty much do for myself.”

Barnes’ speech is slow and a little slurred, and she takes halting steps with the help of a metal walker. For trips to the grocery store and elsewhere, she has to use a wheelchair.

Barnes and her son, Cody, lived in Slidell, Louisiana, when Katrina struck, leaving 7 feet of water and two trees in their rented house. They had moved into an apartment by the time Rita came, a few weeks later.

“The ceiling collapsed on the apartment,” she said, “so I lost what little I had managed to save from Katrina.”

‘So many people who care’

When Barnes fell ill about a year and a half ago, she and Cody moved home to Picayune. The two share one room in a small house owned by her sister and brother-in-law. Maneuvering the narrow hallways and small bathrooms is a challenge with a walker, Barnes said, but she is grateful for the temporary home.

Cody is quietly attentive to his mother’s needs, moving obstacles out of her way and retrieving whatever she needs. A good student--he wants to be a computer programmer someday – he’s also contributing to the family’s sweat-equity account by getting good grades: an “A” is worth one hour; a “B” is worth half an hour.

On May 11, as part of this year’s Carter Work Project, work begins on a home for Barnes and Cody in a neighborhood dubbed Genesis Village. Ultimately, the community will include seven Habitat houses and maybe a duplex.

Barnes has met a few of her future neighbors and some of Habitat’s volunteers.

“I’ve never been in a position of needing help, but now I am,” Barnes said. “It’s just nice to have people who care. I never thought there would be so many people who care so much.”

Affiliate Information:
Picayune, Mississippi: Four houses for Carter Project 2008

Pearl River County was enjoying steady growth before Hurricane Katrina, thanks largely to a reputation as a hospitable retirement site and expansion of the nearby NASA facility and other large employers.

As in many communities just north of the Gulf Coast, the rate of growth exploded as displaced residents sought refuge inland. In a study late last year, Pearl River County in southwestern Mississippi ranked No. 7 on the U.S. Census Bureau’s list of the 100 fastest growing counties in terms of housing.

Picayune is the largest city in Mississippi’s Pearl River County, with a population of about 20,000. Pearl River County Habitat for Humanity is based in Picayune, in an office at First United Methodist Church.

“We’ve been in existence for almost 10 years, and we just dedicated House No. 5 in June of 2007,” said Hedy Cibula, a retired nurse who volunteers as family services manager for the affiliate. “We’ve finished two more since December and will have four more done by the end of 2008, with ground broken for two more!

“That’s how things have changed.”

For this year’s Carter Work Project, Pearl River County HFH will build four houses.