Like many people with a terminal illness, Bruce Barnard has a dying wish.
But it's a wish he's already been denied.
In 2014, the Willard, Ohio, man was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He also has stage 4 cancer.
In November, the Sandusky Register posted a video of Barnard from his hospital bed, telling the camera that his dying wish was to meet LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He also hoped to get the Cavs' star player to start a campaign to raise funds for ALS research.
In the video, an obviously ill Barnard pleads:
“I don't want anyone else to have to go through this terrible disease.”
ALS is an incurable, progressive, neurodegenerative disease which affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Essentially, it eats away at muscle tissue, making movement difficult and painful. Eventually, it reaches a muscle vital for life.
Since the video, thousands of people have become supporters, reaching out to the Cavaliers and Lebron James, echoing Barnard's pleas.
This week, Barnard got an answer. But it wasn't what he was hoping for.
With just a few weeks to live, Barnard's final time on Earth was darkened when the ALS Foundation, which had been helping to facilitate Barnard's wish, called him with the unfortunate news that the Cavaliers were unable to grant him his wish to meet with Lebron James and the rest of the team.
Cavaliers Senior Vice President of Communication Tad Carper told the Norwalk Reflector:
“The ALS (Foundation) did reach out to us about this recently and we invited Mr. Barnard to attend a game."
Carper told the paper that they were able to provide four game tickets. They said they'd also provide tickets and merchandise for any fundraising efforts made on Barnard's behalf.
But meeting Lebron James was not an option.
The call has put a dark cloud over Barnard's remaining days, as he told The Norwalk Reflector:
“If I sit in the wheelchair for more than an hour, I get sick (and am in a lot of pain). I would have been willing to sit in it for six hours with the drive there and back if I could talk with LeBron James. That would be worth it. I know he could raise the money if he got behind it ... As far as I’m concerned, the Cavaliers are dead to me now. I do not want to watch them. I will burn my hats and all my coats and everything. I will torch them all. I don’t want anything to do with them. If they can’t help me, I don’t want anything to do with them. I’ll be dead in a few weeks anyway, so they won’t worry about little old me.”
Barnard went on, expressing his anger and disappointment— and his feelings of resignation in the face of his approaching death:
“No one can raise as much as the Cleveland sports teams could have. If the Cavaliers would have done, and if LeBron could have done it, he’s the only one that could have done it. He has all the connections.”
That's when Barnard couldn't hold back anymore, and began to weep:
“I’m fed up. Mankind is its own worse enemy. It’s doesn’t want to help each other. I’ve done nothing. I haven’t done anything. I thought it was all coming together. But I’ve done nothing. The money will never be enough (now).”
But can or should a sports team grant every wish?
Hayley Condon of IJR and a former intern at the Philadelphia Flyers Community Relations department says it's not that simple— and that the volume of calls teams receive for “dying wishes” is overwhelming. People fielding the calls often aren't in a position to help anyway:
“As an intern in an NHL team's Community Relations department, I fielded daily calls and emails from people asking for tickets or signed memorabilia for a sick family member. It's sad, but there isn't always much that can be done. There are so many requests, and a team's front office is limited in that it doesn't necessarily own the tickets or have unlimited access to players.”
Whether or not Barnard's case is exceptional, or his need more pressing than others who may have similarly contacted the Cavaliers, is anybody's guess.
But despite the bitter disappointment, there is some good news coming Barnard's way.
Non-profit organization Christie Lane Industries, which provides jobs for people with developmental disabilities, has pledged to raise as much money as possible in honor of Barnard by donating the proceeds of their next project to ALS research.
Executive John Schultz told the Norwalk Reflector:
“We have a group of volunteers that go to the Willard nursing home who have a lot of different projects. One of the projects they do is where they make batches of soap to sell and donate the money to different charities. Like right now they’re finishing up raising money for Teen Challenge. So far they have raised $380 for Teen Challenge. They still have a batch to sell so after that it will be well over $500. Then the next charity will be the Willard branch of ALS (research support).”
Schulz told the paper that he expects the project to start in January, and that the fundraiser will continue as long as there's interest for it.
Barnard takes solace in Christie Lane's generosity and spirit, telling the Reflector:
“If someone was going to donate to (a charity) this year, the ALS Foundation would be a good choice.”
Anyone seeking to contribute to the fundraising effort may contact Christie Lane Industries at 419-706-5135.