SPECIAL DAY: Warwick's Mike Barber, left, got to spend some time with the Boston Bruins' Milan Lucic two weeks ago.
The morning of September 5, 2011 changed Mike Barber’s life forever.
It was just before 1 a.m. when the accident happened. Barber, 23, was driving home on his motorcycle without a helmet when he lost control of the bike and crashed near the intersection of Sandy Lane and Old Warwick Ave.
He spent the next week in critical condition, and was in a coma at Rhode Island Hospital for the following 10 days. When he was transported to the hospital in Braintree, Mass., he was still comatose, and he remained that way for the better part of a month.
Barber did eventually come out of the coma, but he had suffered significant brain trauma. The result was a severe loss of his motor skills. He could think clearly, but tasks seemingly as simple as talking and walking suddenly became anything but simple.
He was lucky to even be alive.
The news of Barber’s accident spread around Warwick quickly. After all, Barber was a local, a young man who had attended Toll Gate and grown up in Warwick.
But the news didn’t stop spreading there. It found its way outside the confines of Warwick and outside the state lines of Rhode Island.
Eventually, with a little help, it made its way all the way up to Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic – who just so happens to be Barber’s favorite athlete in the world.
And Barber doesn’t just casually call the 23-year-old Lucic his favorite. Barber watches the Bruins relentlessly, but more for Lucic than the actual team. He wears a Lucic jersey or Lucic-themed T-shirts almost daily.
That’s where Terry DePetrillo comes in. DePetrillo, a good friend of Barber’s father, David, is the one who told Lucic about Barber in the first place.
You see, coincidentally, DePetrillo also happens to be a good friend of Lucic. The two know each other through mutual friend Steve Barbato, and have grown closer over the last few years.
DePetrillo saw an opportunity to do something special for Mike.
“Every picture that [David] sent me, Mikey had a Lucic jersey on,” DePetrillo said. “So I told Milan one day, we’re at his house, I said, ‘A good friend of mine’s son is a big fan of yours.’ And I showed him the pictures. He was kind of devastated when he saw the pictures.”
And he wanted to help.
The initial plan was for Lucic to surprise Mike at rehab in Braintree. But between road games and constant practices, there was never a good time to make it happen.
Eventually, Mike began to progress and regain some of his motor skills, and he returned back to Rhode Island.
So Lucic adjusted the plan.
“[Lucic] said, ‘Why don’t we take some time, we’ll go down to Warwick and surprise him,’” DePetrillo said.
It took a little while, but this time the plan came together. Perfectly.
On March 7, Lucic and DePetrillo went over to Barbato’s house while Mike was at rehab not too far away.
DePetrillo had alerted David, and as soon as rehab was over, David took Mike – who just happened to be wearing a shirt that read “Lucic Crew” on it – as well as his wife Denise and his other son David over to Barbato’s house without telling Mike the reason for the visit.
When the family walked into the den, Lucic was in the kitchen talking to DePetrillo’s wife.
“I said, ‘Stop, Mike. I’ve got somebody I want you to meet,” DePetrillo said. “‘Do you recognize that voice?’ He goes, ‘Don’t tell me…’ And that’s when Milan came around into the den.”
The 6-foot-3, 228-pound Lucic simply smiled and stuck out his hand.
“You should have seen his face,” DePetrillo said. “Milan walked in and said, ‘Hi, I’m Milan Lucic. I’m a friend of Terry’s. It’s a pleasure to meet you.’ And Mike was just out of this world. He was in awe.”
For a family that has been through what the Barbers have in the last six months, watching that moment was pure magic.
“Oh my God,” David Barber said. “The look on his face, I wanted to cry.”
Lucic stuck around for about an hour, signing autographs, taking pictures and, most importantly, giving Mike a few words of encouragement.
He even promised Mike that when he was feeling a little bit better, he would be a guest of his at a Bruins game in Boston next year.
“He’s a sweetheart,” DePetrillo said of Lucic. “What he looks like on the ice, a big fighter? He’s got a good heart.”
The night ended, and it was hard to get Mike to stop smiling.
Two weeks later, he still hasn’t stopped.
“He’s still talking about it now,” DePetrillo said. “He texts me every time they’re watching the Bruins, ‘Hey Terry, please tell Milan I said thank you.’”
Going forward, the hope is that Mike can keep steadily improving. He’s already come a long way from when he emerged from the coma, but rehab is still going to be a long, sometimes painful process.
It won’t be easy, and most of it probably won’t be fun.
But at least once, Mike had an opportunity to take a step back from the morning his life changed and enjoy a night that he’ll never, ever forget.
“Words can’t describe it, put it that way,” DePetrillo said. “It brought a tear to my eye.”
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.