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Barry McWayne, 2001

In conversations with several people over the past couple of days, one question keeps coming up:  What happened?   Barry was in his mid 60’s and full of energy, especially since his retirement in 2007.  He was in excellent health, never had respiratory problems, heart problems or a stroke.  His parents lived well into their 90’s, and like them, Barry seemed well poised to grace us with his presence for several decades more.  His death came as a complete shock.  So what happened?

The answer, so far, is that no one knows.  Barry and his wife, Dorli traveled to the Lower 48 in late May.  After they returned in early June, Barry had a red mark on his ankle, almost as if the edge of his shoe was irritating his skin, and complained of feeling sore and tired.  He went to the hospital Emergency Room, and was given IV antibiotics for cellulitis (a bacterial infection of the skin), followed by a course of oral antibiotics.  This seemed to knock back the infection for a while.  In late July, Barry complained of headaches and fatigue, and was admitted to the hospital in Fairbanks on Thursday, July 22.  His lungs were filling with fluid, and he was septic.  On Friday evening he was placed on a ventilator and sedated to allow his blood oxygen to remain at acceptable levels.  On Monday, July 26, his blood oxygen levels dropped, and the pressure and flow patterns were changed on the ventilator to increase the pressure in his chest to make sure that enough oxygen could reach his blood stream, barely averting death.   Over the next several days, his condition seemed to improve, and the blood oxygen levels remained stable while oxygen levels on the ventilator were being reduced (indicating better lung function).   He was allowed “sedation vacations”, periods when the sedation was lightened and he aroused a little and interacted with family and friends.  However, the doctors were uncertain what infection was causing Barry’s condition (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever was one condition that has been ruled out).  On Sunday, August 1, while he was stable enough to transport, Barry was medevaced to Anchorage in the hopes that the larger team of doctors there might be able to diagnose his condition.  He seemed to improve through the week, but on Friday, August 6, Barry did not emerge from sedation as expected, and showed other neurological signs that concerned the medical staff.  An MRI of his brain on Saturday, August 7 indicated a fluid build-up on his brain and evidence of neurological damage.  The neurologists informed Barry’s family that the situation was inoperable.  On Sunday, August 8, in accordance with Barry’s stated wishes, the ventilator was removed, and he ceased breathing a few minutes later.

I realize that none of the above makes any more sense than being hit by a truck.  Life is not fair, and none of us know how long we have to spend here on earth with each other.   Barry’s departure is especially painful, as he was such a warm and generous soul.

A limited autopsy has been conducted and samples collected in an attempt to determine what nasty bug is responsible for Barry’s death.   Perhaps in a few weeks someone will be able to give a name to this evil pathogen.  Perhaps we will never know.  All we know for sure now is that we have been robbed of a good man and a great friend.


    • Michael Besh
    • Posted August 15, 2010 at 8:45 am
    • Permalink

    Thank you for your article on Barry. I just learned this morning of his passing in the Anch. Daily newspaper. Barry will be missed by all that he touched and inspired, but also remembered forever for his warmth and positive character. A moment of silence to reflect….
    Michael Besh

  1. Thank you, Dennis, for this lovely tribute to Barry. I only learned of his death this morning and am still stunned. I first met Barry when I was a grad. student at UAF. He had time for everyone–always warm, caring, and willing to talk, share, and teach. I remain in awe of his photographic and artistic talents.
    Deepest sympathy to his family…Jay Jackson 8/17/10

    • Mary Ver Hoef
    • Posted July 17, 2011 at 9:03 pm
    • Permalink

    Hello Dennis:
    I was also a friend of Barry’s, and have just finished reading Maryn McKenna’s 2010 book “Superbug:The fatal menace of MRSA”. I was wondering more about the details of Barry’s final illness, and reading your blog it sounds very much like one of the virulent strains of MRSA. You may also want to read this book yourself. Such a huge loss of a fine life from drug-resistant staph.
    Thank you for your blog.

  2. Upon learning, only today, of Barry McWayne’s passing, I, too, wish to add my heartfelt regrets to those which, I am certain, abound. I knew Barry only on a limited artistic basis, but our interaction was with a strong mutual respect. I was honored by his repeated compliments of my image, ‘Hands that Work’; and I will always measure its quality by his approving statements about it. I believe the world is less because it is deprived of any more of his creative contributions.
    With profound sadness, Myron Rosenberg 23 August, 2011

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