GoFundMe page created for Cedar Rapids pastor's spinal fusion surgery costs

Caring for adopted children took a toll on John Janke's health, nephew said

Cear Rapids pastor John Janke, pictured with his wife, Terri, had to have a $105,000 out-of-network spinal fusion in November. His nephew started a GoFundMe page to help pay the debt. (Photo courtesy of John Janke)

John Janke was working as a pastor in Tama County about seven years ago when he met three young children, ages 1, 2 and 11, staying with a foster family.

The children were “severely neglected” and physically and sexually abused by their biological parents, Janke said. The 11-year-old boy was born with drugs in his system. The foster family wanted to adopt the two young girls, but the 11-year-old boy would have to be adopted by another family. His wife, Terri, had considered the idea of adoption. But Janke. then 50, said he wasn’t initially supportive, having already raised two daughters.

“We were looking forward to spending more time together,” Janke said. “We talked about it a lot and my heart changed. We were getting ready to go to bed one night and I could tell my wife was sad. She just said, ‘no one should have to go through life without someone to love them.’”

But caring for his children — who all have reactive attachment disorder and one who has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — has taken a toll on Janke, he said. His oldest daughter, now 9, has conduct disorder. As a result, Janke said she can be abusive to herself and to others.

“The process of trying to keep her from hurting herself and hurting others has taken a toll on my body,” Janke said.

Janke, now a pastor at Northbrook Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids, said an episode a few years ago exacerbated back issues. In 2015, he underwent surgery to remove a cyst that had developed on his spine because of two ruptured and two bulging lumbar vertebrae discs.

But in 2017, doctors told him he needed a spinal fusion after they discovered that the cyst had grown back larger and the lowest vertebra was cracked in two places, allowing it to slide out of position and creating bone-on-bone trauma.

Janke’s doctor recommended he have the surgery done only at the Mayo Clinic because of how complicated the operation was. But the surgery would be out of network and not covered under Janke’s Affordable Care Act insurance plan. Though he was hoping to switch to a new insurance plan, he had to have the surgery early.

“My uncle was like, ‘do I go somewhere that my doctor doesn’t recommend, do I live with my back pain’ — which he couldn’t — ‘or do I get myself into debt?’ No one’s going to sit back and say I think I’ll go somewhere for an 8-hour spinal fusion that my doctor doesn’t recommend,” said David Janke, Janke’s nephew.

The surgery, which he underwent in November, cost $105,000.

“He’ll probably be in debt the rest of his life,” David said. “He cares more about others than making any kind of a buck. When you look at a guy who’s in his 50s and raised two girls, and then he looks at adopting two little girls in diapers and an 11-year-old boy, all I can think of is who would do that other than someone who’s not looking for something in return? He wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”

David began asking his uncle if he could make a GoFundMe page to help raise at least $75,000 to cover some surgery and physical therapy costs. Janke resisted, at first.

“I don’t like asking people for help,” Janke said.

But Janke finally relented. David made a GoFundMe page complete with a video sharing his uncle’s story, which launched Dec. 4. Donations now total over $10,000.

“I’ve come to realize that though the American way is to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, I think we need to learn to live together as a community and be willing to be open with people and be willing to be helped by others,” Janke said.

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