Updated: April 25, 2013 7:11AM
On most days, 4 to 6 a.m. is Janet Spencer Barnes’ quiet time.
During those early mornings, the full-time working mother of six — and caretaker to her eldest child — enjoys the solitude and focuses on her craft.
Writing is a hobby the Oak Forest resident had always wished to pursue. Her daughter, Juliana Ramos, used to encourage her to put pen to paper by volunteering to watch her siblings.
“She would say, ‘Mom you’ve got to write. I promise I will find a way for you to write,’ ” Spencer Barnes said.
That was before a traumatic brain injury suffered in a car crash in October 2009 left Ramos disabled. Though she survived, Ramos “was taken from me,” Spencer Barnes said.
“My daughter was my best friend,” she said. “I had to redefine who I was as a mom and to everyone else.”
Ramos, whose story drew national attention when fiance Chris Medina was a contender on “American Idol” three years ago, needs around-the-clock care. She gets around by wheelchair, and at 26 — she’ll turn 27 Tuesday — she is relearning to walk and talk.
“She is a lot more work and needs a lot of help,” Spencer Barnes said, “but she is no less my daughter.”
Book born from love
In her unique way, Ramos still is inspiring the loved ones around her to pursue their passions.
This came to fruition most recently when the family announced March 11 they had signed a contract with Beverly Hills-based entertainment group MCS41 to turn Ramos and Medina’s story into a major feature film.
Slated for release in fall 2014, the movie is based on Spencer Barnes’ self-published book, “For Juliana: Almost to the Almost, One Penny at a Time.”
The book is a collection of blog postings and handwritten reflections documenting her daughter’s first year of recovery.
Spencer Barnes now seeks a publisher to turn her more recent works into a sequel, to which MCS41 also has the rights. She aspires to one day fulfill a dream of writing fiction.
But she didn’t intend to write a book when the accident happened, Spencer Barnes said. The writings began as letters to her then-comatose daughter, beginning with: “Juliana you’re never going to believe this ... ”
She wrote 50 to 60 pages by hand at Ramos’ bedside for a month and half.
“The first thing my husband brought me up to the hospital was a notebook,” she said. “I wrapped myself in my Snuggie (blanket), sat by myself next to her and tried to separate myself by writing.”
As the reality of the injury’s long-term impact set in, Spencer Barnes no longer wrote to Ramos, but about her, she later realized.
By that point the family had amassed a group of online supporters, both friends and strangers, who looked to Spencer Barnes for updates. Through Facebook and, later, a website, she reflected on Ramos’ gradual recovery without sugarcoating nor shying away from, the grisly details.
Spencer Barnes had also taken notice of how Medina, her daughter’s high school sweetheart, was no longer in Ramos’ shadow but was shadowing her.
“He was becoming this person he didn’t even know he could be,” she said. “I started seeing that and began writing about that.”
Medina, also of Oak Forest, eventually began doing what Ramos had always wanted for him: pursuing music.
“She was Chris’ biggest fan and my biggest supporter,” Spencer Barnes said.
An audition on Season 10 of “American Idol” introduced the couple’s story to the world. Medina’s bid was ultimately unsuccessful, but his singing career had launched.
After the 2010 TV appearance, the number of followers on Spencer Barnes’ blog skyrocketed from 4,000 to 27,000. Support — in the form of money and prayers — poured in from all over.
Throughout it all, Medina has stuck by Ramos’ side. The March 6 release of a repackaged album of songs, including the hit single “What Are Words,” is called “Letters to Juliet.”
The couple’s story of tragedy and triumph serves as the plot line for the script.
‘The gift that keeps giving’
With the movie’s making on the horizon, Medina and Spencer Barnes are composing music and writing, respectively, with all credit given to their “angel Juli.”
They’ve also both witnessed a spark in Ramos since she learned she’d one day be on the red carpet in Hollywood. For now, she is busy tapping into her creative side, too, as she has taken a liking to blogging and painting with oils. Glitter is the signature feature of her art.
“I used to be her voice,” Medina said. “She’s gotten so much better.”
Spencer Barnes is grateful to the network of well-wishers the family has gained in the past 3 1/2 years.
“From the minute it happened, so many people were wrapping us in support, wanting to help us,” she said. “I felt guilty being as lucky as I was because I knew not everyone got a chance to feel this way.”
Medina’s music and her book are their ways of paying it forward. Ramos plays a major part in both endeavors, of course, and has found a way to give on her own.
Earlier this month she auctioned off a painting and raised $300 to send a young woman recently afflicted by a spinal cord injury to Sojourn Therapeutic Riding Center in Peotone.
Ramos, Spencer Barnes said, “is like the gift that keeps giving.”