DENVER - Tred Barta is just learning to use a wheelchair. But he's still pretty good with a long bow, and looking forward to his first horseback ride since a spinal stroke last month cost him the use of his legs.After a stay at Denver Health Medical Center, Barta's now working - and working hard - at Craig Rehabilitation Hospital in Denver. The product of that work could keep him on TV. More important, he expects the work he's doing now to let him hunt, fish and explore the backcountry again.Barta, the host of "The Best and Worst of Tred Barta" on the Versus cable channel, lives along Salt Creek near Eagle. He was getting ready for a trip to Alaska for his TV show when his left leg went "gimp" on him."It wasn't sore," he said, but he didn't have any power in the leg. After a trip to the Steadman Hawkins Clinic, and a referral to Dr. Thomas Palic's chiropractic clinic, Barta was feeling a little better.Then he wasn't, and things went bad in a hurry.He managed to drive himself to Palic's office in Edwards, at which point his right leg started to fade out, too. Palic carried Barta to his car and drove him to the emergency room at Vail Valley Medical Center. He was taken to Denver by ambulance, and while he was being prepared for surgery at Denver Health, one of the staff doctors stopped the procedure because of a hunch.That hunch - a spinal stroke - turned out to be right. Like a stroke in the brain, a spinal stroke cuts off oxygen to nerves. Spinal strokes are exceedingly rare, but the results often put victims into wheelchairs.That's what's happened to Barta.
Barta has based much of his TV and writing career on a simple philosopy: Do the best you can with what you have. Give Barta a chance, on TV, in a magazine column or with a reporter in the room, and you're going to hear about it."Anything easy isn't rewarding - it's boring," Barta said. That's why he doesn't use bait to draw animals to his hunting spots. He doesn't use cameras connected to computers that tell him when an animal feeds at a spot he's picked out. His TV show displays real hunting, at least in the World According to Barta. The slips, falls and failures all make it to the final edit. In fact, he was preparing for his fourth trip to Alaska for black bear when he had his stroke. He'd been shut out on his first three attempts, all of which were documented on the TV show. Barta still uses a long bow - a Ute hunter from the 1700s would recognize it.And, he says, a 12-year-old bagging his first 50-pound doe is as big a deal, or bigger, than the biggest trophy bagged by a veteran hunter. It's that dedication to doing work the way it has been done for generations that's earned Barta dedicated fans.Barta claims to have received around a million e-mails from fans and well-wishers, and there's a stack of letters at his room at Craig. One, though, is special.A member of an Indian tribe in Alaska wrote Barta with get-well wishes, as well as a rare gift: An eagle feather, so he can once again spread his wings in the outdoors.Only American Indians can own eagle feathers, and the letter came with a note from the sender explaining that it's a gift.Obviously, Barta wishes he hadn't had a stroke. But the flood of good wishes, and the work he's doing at Craig, has left him more certain than ever he's on the right path."My philosophy's under test," he said. "I'm proud to say my philosophy is 100 percent solid. I'm not scared. All I can do is do 100 percent of what I'm able to do with what God gave me."And Barta believes people are still willing to watch, read and listen."My greatest fear was that I wouldn't be able to take this situation and inspire people," he said. "But whoever needs (inspiration), they can hop on my back and come along."
Barta's wife, Anni, hasn't been home much since Tred's stroke, but she knows the place is in good hands and is being well watched, thanks to their friends and neighbors."It's been like an old-time small village thing," Anni said. "We have really good neighbors."Mitch and Peggy Brasington took in some of the Barta's horses. Dick Kesler, another neighbor, took the couple's dog, and Glen Miller helped fix the road up to the ranch house."Nobody had to be asked," Anni said. "They just did it."Other neighbors have stepped up, too.Scott Cliver called on a recent Sunday morning from his church, where the congregation had added the Bartas to the prayer list. And the folks at the Eagle Pharmacy, who have gotten to know Barta over his five years or so in the area, were the first to send flowers to Denver Health and call regularly."It's just been overwhelming," Barta said. The outpouring help has left both Bartas overwhelmed, grateful, and, apparently, changed.
Barta said he's raised a lot of money over the years for various charities and youth groups. He believes in old-school chivalry, too, so he's been known to help old ladies across the street.Now he's the one who needs help, which has been a brand-new experience."Nobody's ever helped me like that," Barta said. "I've always been healthy. Now, I have 60, 70 or 80 people helping me here at Craig. I'm learning how to put my clothes on again."Barta's a huge fan of the folks at Craig: "There's no place in the world like it," he said. But it's the little things that shake the couple these days."We're learning how important it is to offer encouragement, even if it's just to say hi to someone," Anni said. "When someone's kind to us, that's what makes us cry."And Tred and Anni, married just a few years, have strengthened their own bonds. Both say they couldn't have come through this ordeal without the other."He's still my hero - he's still the same man," Anni said.And both are looking forward to the future.While she's focused on one day at a time during Tred's recovery, Anni already is looking forward to the months and years ahead up Salt Creek. The house is going to need some remodeling, of course - and Anni's looking for contractors - but there's no reason for either Tred or Anni to think they won't be able to take horseback rides, or hunt from cover, or go sportfishing again. "Life's one big lesson," Anni said. "And this is an accelerated course right now."
Tred Barta's time at Denver Health Medical Center and Craig Rehabilitation Hospital are going to run up some pretty scary bills. Here are a couple of ways to help:Donations are being accepted by the Vail Valley Charitable Fund. Send them to:P.O. Box 1275,Avon, 81620Or call 970-845-6339. Mention the donation is for Tred Barta. Donations are tax deductible, and credit card payments can be made via the internet at: www.vvcf.org.Wells Fargo Bank in Eagle has established the Tred and Anni Barta medical fund. Call 970-328-6361 to learn more.Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.