Meet Dr. David Barnes

Dr. David Barnes – or “Dr. Dave” as he is known by the guests who meet him during the House’s Tuesday Breakfasts – has spent most of his adult life in the world of transplant. As a retired hepatologist at the Cleveland Clinic Transplant Center, he knows the challenges faced by transplant families.

When he retired shortly before the start of the pandemic, Dave knew he wanted to stay active and involved.

“I missed the social interaction and feeling of doing something worthwhile. That can be a hard thing to replace.”

Dave had kept up with Transplant House and he always felt that the House met an important need of caregivers and patients. He had also stayed in touch with our Executive Director, Elaine Turley, whose father Dave had cared for as part of his transplant team in the 1990s.

“I’ve seen the House endure and grow – I always liked the idea of Transplant House.”

But he hadn’t visited the campus yet and, with the pandemic, his first visit would have to wait a little while longer. But when COVID restrictions began to relax, Dave and his wife Elizabeth (who is also a physician at the Cleveland Clinic) jumped at Elaine’s invitation to stop in at the House. But it was Dave’s former colleague at the Cleveland Clinic, our Transplant Social Worker Annette Humberson, who recruited him as a volunteer.

“I mentioned I was interested in helping out as a volunteer and Annette said, ‘How about breakfast?’”

Cooking is one of the new skills Dave began to pick up in retirement.

“I’m self-taught,” Dave clarifies with a laugh. “But chemistry is good preparation for cooking – if you follow the recipe, you can predict the end result. There’s a creative side to cooking too – adding spices and ingredients outside of the recipe – but I haven’t made it there just yet.”

For Dave, the joy of cooking is twofold.

“There’s something nurturing about cooking for someone and something enjoyable about seeing other people enjoy the food you’ve cooked. It’s nurturing for people physically and emotionally to share a meal – there’s something comforting in that.”

Dave is modest about the volunteering he does at the House. To him it’s a small and simple gesture, as he says, “to be a short order fry cook” for a morning once a week. But the pancakes and French toast, or eggs and sausage, do make a big difference for guests every Tuesday. The breakfasts create a space for shared moments and what brings the community together is the food. And by handling the cooking, Dave frees up Annette to spend more time with the guests.

“In some ways I think transplant is more stressful for the caregivers than for those who are undergoing treatment. Annette is really good at counseling caregivers and patients.”

Whether he knows it or not, the guests also benefit from Dave’s presence. Each week, Dave shows up in his apron ready to cook and chat with guests. His warm, friendly demeanor and good humor is a big part of what makes the Tuesday Breakfasts so inviting (in addition to the smell of good food).

“It’s fun,” he says, “to make a difference in a small way.”

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