The local community is rallying behind motorcycle crash survivor Bernardo Barco and his family.
In December, Bernardo Barco lost his right arm and left leg in a motorcycle crash along Interstate 5 near the south 272nd exit. Although still healing from many surgeries and three-month stay at Harborview, Bernardo Barco said he is happy — and finally able to laugh again.
The life-altering event with a miraculous ending has left the Barco family with financial challenges of the steep hospital bills and the cost of relocating to a new house in Federal Way. The new home has better accessibility for Bernardo Barco, who is now in a wheelchair.
The Barco family previously lived in Des Moines and once Grace Lutheran Church in Des Moines heard of Bernardo Barco’s story, the church decided to take action.
grace in ACTION
Lifting up others in the community is what the church is about, said John O’Neal, lead pastor of Grace Lutheran Church.
The church’s mission is to put God’s grace into action; a few Des Moines residents have called Grace Lutheran “the church that never sleeps,” O’Neal said.
“We don’t believe in miracles — we depend on them.”
As mobility and accessibility are a priority for Bernardo Barco now, a community outreach program at Grace Lutheran plans to donate a free wheelchair ramp installation to the family’s new abode.
“We do a variety of projects that include ramps and decks and railings, and we do a lot of yard clean-ups,” said Al Vraspir of the grace in ACTION program. “Primarily where there’s a need in the community.”
Vraspir, a congregation leader and participant in the program for 10 years, said the church has completed about 88 projects since its fruition.
“All the labor is donated; we will not take money for labor,” he said.
A fund is maintained at the church to cover the costs of project materials for those in financial need.
“Our congregation has historically been involved in outreach,” he said. “We just look for needs in the community on a continual basis.”
The program is still working out the details of the installation, Vraspir said.
“People just like knowing that they can make a difference in somebody else’s life,” he said. “And that’s why people are inspired to do this.”
Bernardo Barco’s wife, Rocio, said she cannot wait to host a celebration and give back to the community that has so generously supported her family.
SALT for good
Jason Wix, of Des Moines, is a member of Grace Lutheran and participant of the SALT (Serve and Lead Together) team.
Recently, the church was looking to put on a collaborative event with South King Fire and Rescue for a cause of the department’s choosing.
Wix called SKFR public information officer Brad Chaney and posed the question: What is the department particularly passionate about at the moment?
Chaney immediately responded with two words: “Bernardo Barco.”
The choice was simple, Chaney said, because of the rare and remarkable story Bernardo lives to tell.
“Even though he suffered severe injuries taking his arm and leg, he feels more complete now than ever before because he is truly grateful for what he does have,” Chaney said. “[Bernardo] has life: a life to live, a life to spend with his family, and a life to continue giving back to the community in ways he never imagined before.”
From then on, Wix and the SALT team began to put a plan in action.
The other key volunteer leaders for the SALT emphasis were Al Vraspir, T.J. Johannsen, Lindsay Lombardo, Tessa Krippaehne, and Debbie O’Neal, although many other hands contributed to helping the Barco family, O’Neal said.
The family’s need is what struck Wix, he said.
“You see everything out in our community … it was just a meaningful story of impacting something local and certainly a great family that need some help,” he said.
An afternoon of washing cars on May 19 raised $5,589 for Bernardo and his family.
More than 30 individuals from Grace Lutheran, Thrivent Financial and South King Fire and Rescue helped wash, detail and vacuum cars.
“On that day, the sun came out and it was just packed,” Wix said. “At one point I think a lady said she waited 45 minutes to get her car washed.”
Rocio and Bernardo Barco were overcome with emotion when the check was presented to them at Grace Lutheran on June 6. The couple’s ever-present smiles dropped momentarily as a wave of shocked expression fell upon their faces and they gave thanks through tears.
“There is no logical explanation for why I’m alive today,” Bernardo Barco said after sharing his survival story. “It’s hard for me to understand, but it’s definitely God’s plan.”
Rocio Barco told her husband: “I never asked Him to leave you here with me … I just asked him to do what He has to do.”
Paying it forward, with a vintage car
Bernardo and Rocio Barco knew a surprise was coming — but they had no idea how big it would be as they stood outside Rocio Barco’s sister’s Federal Way home on June 10.
They watched a beautiful burgundy 1970 Buick Riviera pull up in front of them.
Rod Gamper, a long-time Federal Way resident, likes to buy old Buick Rivieras, fix them up and re-sell them. It’s been a hobby of his for years now.
It just so happened that the 28th Buick he was working on, a 1970, was still sitting in his garage. He decided the perfect way to help out the Barco family was to donate it to them to be auctioned off at the end of August.
Gamper is also a survivor of his own traumatic motorcycle accident.
Up near Mount Rainier, he was riding his motorcycle with a friend when his tire caught on part of the road and he went flying into a nearby guardrail. His accident was, like Bernardo’s, was very serious, with a minimal chance of survival.
As a result of his crash, Gamper sustained serious brain injuries.
“They had to teach me how to talk, how to eat.”
But thankfully, with the help of the doctors and nurses at Harborview Medical Center and his wife, Gamper recovered.
“If it wasn’t for my wife, I wouldn’t have survived.”
So, when he heard about Bernardo’s accident, he saw it as a way to help out someone who was in the same place he was all those years ago.
Gamper, Bernardo Barco and his wife agreed that, as horrible as their accidents were, the only thing you can do in those situations is look forward.
“You never look back.” Gamper said. “You always gotta keep going straight ahead.”
Rocio Barco said her uncle always told her that the word “no” is not an option.
“[He would say] you have to figure out a way to find a yes.”
Gamper said he was happy to be able to help the Barcos.
“My story’s not important,” Gamper said. “The Barco family deserves the attention.”
The family was speechless when they saw the vintage car in front of them, and Rocio Barco started to tear up. It seemed that both of them were so overcome at the thoughtful gift all they could say was “wow.”
The Riviera wasn’t the only gift Gamper gave the Bernardo.
He also wanted to help Bernardo Barco join the workforce again, and since Bernardo Barco is interested in photography, Gamper gave him his very own photography camera.
It’s going to take some time for Bernardo Barco to learn how to take pictures with only his left hand, he joked with Gamper.
“Bernardo is one of those miraculous stories that captured the attention of the community,” Chaney added. “It has been a very rewarding experience to see a community rally together to support one of their own citizens during a most difficult time for Bernardo and his family. It is moments like these that will last us a lifetime and we are thankful to be a small part of Bernardo’s story.”
With the help of South King Fire and Rescue and Lt. Chaney, Gamper arranged to give the title to the Barco family and put the car up for auction so all of the earnings could go to them.
Gamper said this was his way of paying it forward, and passing off a blessing to the Barco family for their continued growth after Bernardo Barco’s accident.