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Published on August 15, 2018

Dale Baldwin signaling touchtown

Knee surgery and rehab to get you back in the game

Dale Baldwin is used to free meals.

"My football crew has a bet," says the local referee, who everyone knows as Barney. "If we go somewhere and someone knows me, they have to buy me dinner. If no one knows me, I buy."

Barney rarely pays as he travels southwestern and central Wisconsin refereeing football, basketball and baseball and adult rec sports as he has for 35 years, in the part of the state he's called home his entire life.

"It's a close community," the 56-year-old Wonewoc native says. "Before games kids and coaches will say 'We got Barney today.' It's an extension of your family. I really enjoy working with the kids. You can teach kids through the game. It's an extension of the classroom."

When knee pain began to make Barney's trips up and down the field and court more difficult, he turned to the local experts at Gundersen St. Joseph's Hospital and Clinics.

"I tried cortisone injections, and it worked for a little while, but I eventually scheduled a knee replacement," Barney says.

After surgery on his left knee November 2017 at Gundersen St. Joseph's Hospital in Hillsboro, Barney's rehab to get back to officiating began immediately.

"Staff had me moving each night I was in the Hospital to keep my knee loose," Barney says. "There was even a nurse who knew me when she played basketball in Wonewoc who came to check on me regularly."

Once he was out of the hospital, Barney began rehab three times a week with the team at Gundersen St. Joseph's.

"Before I went in, I could not ride a bike. I had a walker and cane," Barney says. "They helped me along and worked me hard. There were days I didn't want to do it, but they pushed me to get stronger."

"He's almost like an athlete," says Ashley Thayer, director, Gundersen St. Joseph's Rehab Services, a Royall High School alum who saw Barney often when he refereed Royall games. "Barney had a goal, and he wanted to get to it. Even after surgery, he was willing to participate. Barney's positive attitude was so important to his rehabilitation."

Barney's rehab included stretching, climbing stairs and riding a bike, on which Barney found a surprising source of encouragement.

"The bike I used was actually purchased after a donation in honor of my aunt, Elsie Sebranek," Barney says. "She also had a knee replacement. It was added motivation and inspiration to get stronger and get back to normal activity."

With motivation from his aunt's memory and his rehab team, Barney returned to work in February 2017.

"Barney makes true my belief that the most extraordinary people you meet come disguised as ordinary folks," says Carol Veldey, Physical Therapy assistant, Gundersen St. Joseph's. "Every therapy session was a challenge that Barney met with a smile and a willingness to work. It was hard work, but it never really felt like work with Barney because he makes everything fun."

"When (the rehab team) finally had to kick me out, I actually cried," Barney shares. "I thanked them all because they are friends. I'm feeling really good."

Barney's picked up his whistle part-time, but hopes to get back to full-time officiating soon, with some added motivation. "My grandson will be in 7th grade, so I'm hoping to ref some of his games this fall."

And likely get some more free meals along the way.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System staff deliver great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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