By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Photos courtesy the Del Barba family
Office of Public and Employee Communications
When Correctional Officer Mark Del Barba’s 21-year-old son Dez headed off to Army basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, it was a moment of pride for the family. The Sonoma State University student, taking time off from his final semester of studies to pursue a military career, looked forward to the future. Now, Dez and his family are battling to save his future after a life-threatening illness dashed his plans.
Officer Del Barba has worked at Deuel Vocational Institution since 2001 but had to take a leave of absence to help his son as he battles for his life in Texas.
He recalls the phone call that changed the lives of everyone in his family.
“We received a phone call on the early morning of Feb. 11. His commander notified us that he was being transferred to a local emergency room for possible lung infection and we needed to get to Georgia as soon as possible. So we made arrangements for the earliest flight from San Francisco airport,” he said. “We received another phone call while in route to the airport that my son was being taken into surgery. We still had no idea what was going on.”
After getting to Georgia, the family found the situation had taken a drastic turn.
“We finally arrived to Atlanta and were driven to the hospital about two hours away. We arrived to the hospital around 2200 hours and we were told about my son’s diagnosis as necrotizing fasciitis, the flesh-eating disease,” he said.
When they first saw their son, they were shocked.
“He was intubated. He had approximately 20 bags of medication being delivered to his body. He had already been through his first debridement surgery. This procedure is removing the dead tissue. This disease grows one inch every hour, so the doctors were fighting a battle. He was on several antibiotics and four blood pressure medications and other medications for pain. Our nightmare was just beginning it was the most heart wrenching experience we have ever dealt with,” he said. “We sent a healthy young man to begin serving his country and six weeks later he is fighting for his life.”
The family said they are staying strong for Dez, who has since been transferred to a Texas medical facility.
“Our goal is to inform the public regarding this disease. Necrotizing fasciitis’ leading cause is from the Strep A virus,” Officer Del Barba said. “Every day seems like the same day. And watching him go through all the surgeries, the pain of wound care, the intense physical therapy is heartbreaking and we are also proud of him. He is a true warrior and he wants to move on. Dez has his plans to go back to Sonoma State University to finish his business degree and continue his life.”
Dez’s illness has greatly impacted the family.
“This has changed not only Dez’s life, but my family’s life in a way I cannot express in words. My wife had to take unpaid leave to be here. She will not return home until he does. For me, I have been using my time, however I used everything that I had. So my amazing DVI family stepped in and started a time bank for me. This has helped me to stay here with my son. My daughter and my son’s girlfriend fly out here as much as possible. They are both in college so their funds are tight. We purchase their plane tickets whenever they want to come. Our lives have changed dramatically and we don’t know if it will ever be the same again. Our son and daughter are the priority and making sure they are taken care of is all we can think about,” he said.
Del Barba said asking for help is not in their nature but they’ve hit a financial and emotional wall.
“We are not the type of people to ask for anything. The most important thing we ask for are prayers for my son. We also want everyone to educate themselves and others regarding this disease. We are probably going to have some financial setbacks especially with transportation issues. I think the most important thing I can request is time. My son will probably be here in Texas for the next year or more. He has a long rehabilitation ahead and will need the family support,” he said.
Dez has undergone roughly 20 surgeries, skin grafts and removal of dead tissue.
“Nothing in our department is greater than the strength and quality of our employees. Officer Del Barba epitomizes these qualities. Dez is facing an incredibly challenging journey in his recovery, and on behalf of the entire staff at DVI, I extend our continued support, prayers and well wishes to Dez and the Del Barba family,” said DVI Warden Robert Burton.
Learn more about Dez’s fight (may not be accessible from a CDCR computer): https://facebook.com/dezstrong2019/
Learn more about the disease: https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/necrotizing-fasciitis/
The family has set up a GoFundMe account at https://www.gofundme.com/f/dez-del-barba-fight-against-necrotizing-fasciitis
Employees may donate to Del Barba’s time bank. For information, contact DVI Lt. Christene Zoucha, (209) 830-3851.