Bravely, Ronette Walks Again, Is Being On Ellen’s Show Next?
Occasionally, given the insanity coming from the White House, I suppose I can get a little grumpy. Okay, maybe more than a little. I’m grateful for these columns to vent and also to share humorous tales from my past. (Hopefully, without getting sued.) This space also allows me to write about courageous Santa Monican’s facing difficult life challenges. This is one of those columns. (Meaning, it will be “grumpy-free.”)
It’s easy to forget when stuck in downtown Santa Monica traffic ours is a beach town. As in, going to the beach, diving into the ocean or surfing or just watching a beautiful sunset light up the sky in spectacular orange and red hues. By lifeguard station #26, there’s a group of regulars who, weather permitting, assemble daily to watch the sunset with seeming spiritual reverence.
One of the group is my dear friend, Stephanie, who grew up here. One day Steff introduced me to Ronette Barry (friends call her “Ro”) whose physical disabilities make just getting to view the sunset defying the odds. (I, on the other hand, defy the odds when I do laundry, a subject that fortunately I will not revisit today.)
Ro’s young life was the American dream or at least the Santa Monica version. Intelligent, personable and tall (5’10”) she excelled in dance classes at SMC. She was strikingly beautiful, (still is) so much so she even attempted a modeling career in Paris. But the biggest part of the dream was she married her true love, Brian, and they’re still in love thirty-one years later. Unfortunately, however, life has a way of placing road bumps on our journey, only for Ro it was more of a boulder.
On the morning of June 6, 2006, Ronette, age 46, experienced a massive brain hemorrhage (aka “avm,” or arterial malformation in her brain.) Whatever the exact medical term, the result was Ronette was in a coma for three very long months. Doctors heroically performed emergency surgeries and even removed part of her brain. (Yikes!) There were grave doubts, however, that Ro would survive and, if she did, she would likely be impaired for life. Suddenly the dream had turned into a nightmare.
Despite her coma, Ro’s family and friends showed amazing love and support. Spearheaded by Shawn Barry, Brian’s older sister, a monthly calendar was created that resulted in at least one family member or friend would be by Ro’s side almost 24/7. They talked to her; played music; watched TV; they sang songs to her and, her close friend, Vlady, even gave Ro a facial.
Then one morning, with Shawn by her side, like a miracle Ro suddenly woke. She couldn’t talk and tears rolled down her cheeks but it was a blessing she was out of the coma. (Soon, you’ll see how Ellen DeGeneres fits into this tale.)
Unfortunately, one side of Ro’s body was completely paralyzed. But she could hold a TV remote control. (Important as it turned out.) As she lay for months in the hospital bed she passed the days watching the “Ellen Show.” Ro had always admired Ellen’s bravery for coming out as gay. And the laughter Ro felt from the show every day was like a healing tonic. For Brian, the family, and friends, to see Ro happy was pure joy.
Occasionally, when chatting with guests, Ro noticed that Ellen quoted a line from the 2003 animated blockbuster movie “Finding Nemo” about a father fish in search of his lost son. Ellen did the voice for the fish Dory who joined the father’s quest. On her show, to encourage guests facing a daunting challenge, Ellen would say, “Just keep swimming.” For Ro, it meant, “Just keep fighting.”
And fight Ronette did. With months of tedious speech therapy, she was able to say a few words, adding more each day. She was in a wheelchair for two years but with endless hours of painful and exhausting physical rehab, she began to gain some movement.
With all her hard work and support from so many who loved her, eventually, Ro was able to actually walk, albeit with a walker. Then she bravely tried with a cane as Brian “spotted” her every step. These days she walks short distances on the boardwalk all on her own. And when she does, she has the biggest smile of anyone at the beach.
Forever Ellen fans, Ro and Brian were thrilled to get tickets to the 2017 Christmas Show and even came home with wonderful prizes given to audience members. But Ro, hoping to inspire others, has her heart set on being on the Ellen Show, however briefly, to share her “never give up” story. She knows the odds are long but keeps telling herself, “Just keep swimming.”