Saints superfan, policeman pushing to get back on feet
Though Barry Matherne put on a brave front, his voice was weary, especially striking when compared with the usually gregarious personality of the parish deputy, volunteer fireman and Saints superfan.
Matherne, the Hahnville man known as “Dat Fireman” for his Fireman Ed-inspired gameday costume, is in the early stages of recovery from major neck surgery to relieve what had become constant, debilitating pain. While he was able to undergo the surgery, and his recovery prognosis seems good, rehabilitating the pain is far from the lone source of stress to come from the ordeal.
“I started having several health problems … I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, 150 over 110 was the average for awhile,” Matherne said. “I was at risk for a heart attack or stroke. I’d also had lower back, shoulder and neck pain for years … I had a procedure to cauterize the nerve endings, and it helped me deal with the pain but it didn’t fix it.”
Eventually, though, that problem had to be addressed.
“It was getting harder and harder to even get out of bed in the morning,” he said. “I was using Icy Hot by the gallon.”
It limited him to the point Matherne had to be placed on leave as an officer, his mobility so limited that he had to be classified as unfit for duty in early March.
A visit to his physician yielded a referral to a surgeon, as this time his medical state seemed possibly more dire. The surgeon confirmed just that: he needed neck surgery, and it wasn’t a matter of if or when: he effectively needed it immediately.
Financially, this put him in a dire position, though his doctor was able to have the procedure pushed through for necessity and, Matherne said, waived his personal fees.
“He told them this wasn’t elective … I’d lost all the fluid between my C4 and C5 vertebrate, and it was putting so much pressure on the other nerves in the area. It was causing my lower back, neck and shoulder pain,” he said.
He’ll be “on the shelf,” for all intents and purposes, for 1.5 to 2 months. But while insurance has helped pay for a portion of his medical fees, a considerable amount is coming out of pocket, and without current income, it’s created a bind.
“I’m in danger of losing my electricity and having my power turned off,” he said. “I was someone who was up to date on all my bills … this morning, three bill collectors called me, back-to-back-to-back.”
“It was getting harder and harder to even get out of bed in the morning.” – Barry Matherne
Denise Malone, Matherne’s fiancé, started a GoFundMe (titled Help for Barry) to help, and the popularity of Dat Fireman was apparent early, as within a day $800 was raised — including $200 by a fellow Who Dat.
“He and I aren’t close. We communicate from time to time as fans,” Matherne said. “He recognized me as a fellow Saints lover and he wanted to help me out, and I’m grateful.”
But he had to be convinced to post the page, as Matherne has always been one more comfortable giving than receiving.
“I’m not used to being in this position,” he said. “It hurts to have to rely on friends and even strangers … I feel I should be able to take care of myself on my own.”
Brooks, who absorbed considerable loss in Hurricane Katrina, said she told him there are times “you need help too.”
“You learn it’s better to give than receive, because receiving, it means you’re down on your luck,” she said. “He’s unselfish and is so giving, and I know it’s tough for him.”
As “Dat Fireman,” he began donning his now-iconic outfit in 2009, when the Saints capped off his first season in superfandom with the team’s first and only Super Bowl victory.
Since that time, “Dat Fireman” has done plenty away from the football field, supporting different charitable causes and making appearances at special fundraising events, in addition to his constant support of his lifelong favorite team.
He said the most rewarding part of his stature in the fanbase is the opportunity it provides for charity work. The feeling he gets when he can lift the spirits of sick children surpasses any team victory. He began attending fundraisers, starting with a Kidd Kraddick Foundation fundraiser five years ago, and charitable appearances have become a passion of his.
“That’s why I’m so proud to be part of the Who Dat Nation … we always step forward to help other people,” he said. “People label us in the Big Easy Mafia as superfans … the thing that makes us super is the charity work we do, going to events and putting them together year-round.”
He said he cannot wait to get back to that routine.
“To touch the lives of others just by making an appearance, raising money for worthy causes … it’s the most rewarding part about it,” he said.