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The Center, Essentia Health to host Today's Health event

Brainerd area residents Jack Barry and Joe Heal share a common bond — they both know a single visit to the doctor’s office can change everything.

Both will share their journeys in learning their diagnosis and the life changes that followed at the Today’s Health event host from 4-7 p.m. Friday at The Center in Brainerd. The event will focus on leukemia and diabetes.

Last spring, Jack Barry visited his doctor after an ongoing battle with flu-like symptoms.

“I just thought I was getting old,” he recalled.

It wasn’t age that was plaguing his health, it was something he would come intimately familiar with — acute myeloid leukemia. Jack Barry recalled his visit with his doctor.

“He told me there was no color in my eyes. It definitely wasn’t the flu.”

His doctor decided to run some blood tests and called him at home to talk about testing his bone marrow. “There was no mention of leukemia yet,” Jack Barry said. But he knew at that point, whatever it was — it was serious.

Barry’s battle against his leukemia required travel to the Mayo clinic for several rounds of chemotherapy. He said he didn’t ask a lot of questions about his leukemia and his doctors didn’t volunteer a lot of information — something he preferred.

“The less you know the less you worry about it,” he said.

What he does know is the type of leukemia he has, CHIC2, is a new diagnosis. Only one other person in Minnesota has been given the same diagnosis and approximately 17 people have received the same diagnosis in Europe since doctors started diagnosing it three years ago. Despite the rarity of his type of leukemia, the prognosis for Barry is good.

“It’s curable,” he said.

“But it’s not going to be fun,” added Barry’s wife, DeAnn.

DeAnn Barry said despite the months of chemo and its many side effects, their faith, the support of their family, co-workers and doctors made the last year doable.

DeAnn Barry said her husband’s co-workers at Essentia Heath even donated sick days to allow him to keep his health insurance coverage and organized a benefit to help cover medical costs. Friends even cut wood to help keep their home heated through the winter.

Doctors at Mayo Clinic and Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center’s Cancer Center in Brainerd worked together to provide the medications needed so travel to Rochester could be limited. “Whatever he needed he could get here,” DeAnn Barry said.

March 28 marked the one-year anniversary of Jack Barry’s diagnosis.

“We’ll never forget that day,” Jack Barry said.

Today, his leukemia is in remission. All routine testing since his last round of chemo have returned normal.

“There’s hope,” he said.

Joe Heal’s life changed forever when in July of 2010, his wife found him at home in a near diabetic coma and rushed him to the hospital.

Three months earlier, Heal was diagnosed as pre-diabetic at a routine doctor’s appointment. His doctor told him to cut back on his carbs.

“I didn’t know what that even meant,” Heal said. “I cut back on pop and increased the doughnuts.”

Heal, a retired pilot, said a lifelong love for sweets and a longtime smoking habit contributed to his nearly fatal loss of control of his blood sugar.

“I didn’t understand the ramifications of what I was doing to myself,” Heal said.

During the last several years, Heal educated himself with the help of Essentia Health diabetes clinician Bard Risnes.

“Knowledge is powerful,” he said.

Heal has changed his approach to food. He still loves sweets, but now he eats them in moderation. “One cookie is good,” he said. “Five is not.”

Heal stopped smoking cold turkey the day he was admitted to the hospital. “I’d probably be dead by now if I hadn’t,” he said. Today, Heal has his diabetes under control. “It’s fairly easy,” he said of his commitment to tracking his diet and exercise and remaining smoke-free, though he admits to enjoying the periodic second-hand smoke. “I love smoke,” he said and laughed.

Both Jack Barry and Heal said they’re committed to sharing their stories as a way to help others that might find themselves in similar situations.

“If my story will help someone — it’s worth it,” Heal said.

Today’s Health is sponsored by The Center, formerly the Lakes Area Senior Activity Center, in partnership with Essentia Health and Mayo Clinic and is open to all ages. Today’s Health is free, however, registration is required.

For more information and to register call the Center at 829-9345.

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at or 855-5879.