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A mother’s love

On a September day back in 1981, life for June Barrett and her 14-year-old daughter, Lori, changed forever.
“Lori had an automobile accident, and she received a brain injury,” Barrett said.
An injury to her left frontal lobe left Lori’s life in a precarious balance. Her prognosis was poor, but June’s determination to save her daughter was unflappable.
“They told me to put her in a home, and think of her as a thing, and go on with my life,” Barrett recalled. “That just made me mad.”
And so, a journey into living life with a seriously brain-injured child began.
“Lori was in a coma for three and half months. She was hospitalized for seven and a half months. She did not walk for a year,” Barrett said. “She did not eat for 14 months, and she didn’t speak for 16 months.”
Married for only 13 months to her new husband, Steve, at the time of the accident, Barrett enlisted his support while she searched for ways to improve her daughter’s condition and restore her child’s quality of life.
Barrett traveled to rehabilitation hospitals around the country looking for the right plan and the right resources to fit Lori’s needs. She backed away from a successful career as a Realtor and developer. And when her search left her emptyhanded, June decided to take matters into her own hands.
During the decade after the accident, Barrett hired nurses to work with her in shifts at her home to help Lori learn how to speak, how to use her hands again, and how to walk again.
“We had two shifts of nurses come in, and we just started our own rehabilitation process,” June explained. “And as time went on I saw her making progress with our common sense approach.”
June and Steve carefully took Lori out of their house to help her engage in some activities she had once loved.
“Lori was such a special kid. She was state champion on her horse, and she was active in all sports — waterskiing and cheerleading,” she said. “We would take her to the lake and put her in the boat, we would put her on her horse (with Steve) to get her hands moving. She had a very serious brain injury, but she was gradually responding to some of those things.”
Lori’s slow recovery and June’s own vast life experience gave her the ideas and the inspiration to found her own center for people with brain injuries.
“We went to Springfield to look at a facility. It was a pretty facility,” June explained. “When we drove away I asked how much it would cost, and a guy answered, ‘$300,000 a year,’” Barrett remembered. “Nobody can afford that, and everybody needs the service. So, when we drove away that day, in 1991, I said ‘We’re going to start a center.’”
And the Crumley House in Limestone was born.
“My whole life, it’s like the Lord has been preparing me for this job; because of my family background, education and different careers that I’ve had,” Barrett said. “I’ve been a social worker, I taught home economics, and I was a nutritionist, and then I was a realtor.”
Barrett used her personal and professional support networks to ask the right questions, and get the most helpful people she could find involved in the project. Her charisma and pluck enabled her to write grants to raise money for the Crumley house.
Her ease with others, and a lot of luck, got her a donated building — formerly owned by a family named Crumley — to create the Crumley House. Then she managed to secure some land in Limestone, donated by the county, to seal the deal.
Barrett believes the facility’s Limestone location is perfect for what it offers.
“When we went to different rehab centers to see what they had to offer, the speech room was suspended. It didn’t have any vibrations or noises. They could rethink and learn,” Barrett said. “We moved out to Jonesborough in 1983 so it could be quiet for Lori. And that’s why we found a place down in Limestone, out in the country — so these people have a quiet place.”
The Crumley House opened as a day facility in 1992, and Lori was there within six months. But in 1993, June’s own body began to give her trouble as she was diagnosed not once, but twice with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and was forced to undergo chemotherapy twice — once in 1993 and once in 2000.
Within a year of opening the Crumley House, Barrett was fighting for her own life. And when the new residential facility was under construction in 2000, she had to wage that war yet again.
But Barrett’s spirits never flagged. She drafted grants in her chemotherapy chair, and she worked hard to stay upbeat about her own healing process.
“I just kept a positive attitude. My husband would drive me and help me work with construction folks in between (chemo) time,” she said. “And I picked out color schemes and did the floor plan. I visited assisted living facilities, and took the ideas from the different rehab centers I had seen, and tried to put the best ideas together.
“There were days I didn’t think I was going to live through the day. But because of Lori, and because of this project, and knowing what a needed service it was, I just felt like I was the one that was supposed to do it. So, I just kept pushing.”
June has weathered many major health problems over the years, but literally nothing seems to keep her spirits down. And it seems June has never looked back or nursed a single regret.
She feels she has had a happy and fulfilling life that has allowed her to travel, enjoy her friends and spend time with her husband, all while providing for her daughter.
“We’ve been able to have a normal life in the midst of taking care of Lori first. We traveled to Nova Scotia, and to Boston, and all throughout the United States,” she said. “Now, since my health has been more unpredictable, we do more short trips around the area.”
And Barrett believes her daughter Lori has the best possible life as a permanent resident of the Crumley House.
“She thinks she’s in charge,” she explained with a chuckle. “And she’s very self-confident. Lori has a happy life.”