BLUE EARTH - A car accident turned out to be a lifesaver for Josh Jahnke. Because of his injuries, doctors discovered he had cancer.
A fund-raiser for Jahnke is set for 5 p.m. Nov. 26 at Southern Jack's Bar and Grill in Blue Earth, although Jahnke won't be there. He'll be undergoing chemo treatments in preparation for a bone marrow transplant Nov. 28. Donating the marrow is his younger sister, Alicia Ober. Her bone marrow is being harvested today.
Five years ago, Jahnke was in a car accident and was knocked unconscious. He was taken to United Hospital District in Blue Earth where tests were run.
IN?A?BATTLE?— Josh Jahnke, center, sits with his wife, Heidi, right; step-daughter, Paige, left; and daughter, Macy. Josh will undergo a bone marrow transplant later this month.
"The doctor didn't know what it was; he just said cancer," Jahnke said.
He was airlifted to Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester, partly because of his injuries and partly to get more testing done.
He underwent a bone marrow biopsy "to find out what type of cancer, how bad it was, what they could do with medicines," Jahnke said. It was an anxious week and a half for him; his wife, Heidi; and parents, Lee and Kim Jahnke of Blue Earth.
On Oct. 6, 2006, he found out he had chronic myeloid leukemia.
Looking back, Jahnke realized he had symptoms, including bruising, fatigue and night sweats, which were "really bad," but he wrote them off to the fact he was "working over 100 hours a week" at Moore's Drainage & Excavation in Blue Earth.
There are three stages to the cancer, and the bone marrow biopsy revealed his was in Stage 1, which could be treated with medicine. He also found out that "chronic" meant it was "more treatable than acute. We don't want it to jump from chronic to acute," he said.
"It was a God-given thing I was in the car accident or who knows how long it had been [before it was discovered]," Jahnke said.
He began taking "12 or 15 different medications" which made him throw up a lot and sent him back and forth to the emergency room. That wasn't the worst part.
"My body got immune to the pill I was taking," Jahnke said. "My white blood count kept going up and I'd get sick all the time."
He blacked out at work, had a seizure and got an ambulance ride to Albert Lea.
"The different medication wasn't working," Jahnke said. "The only option is a transplant."
Testing for a donor match would only be given to Jahnke's siblings, meaning Ober was his only hope. Odds were 1 in 4, but she matched.
"We both cried when we got the news," Jahnke said.
Ober had heard of a patient with 10 siblings and none who matched, so "since I'm a match, it's a huge thing," she said.
It meant a lot to her to be able to do it.
"It'd be the best gift for him; the gift of life," said Ober, who has a husband, Shaun, and three sons. "I can keep my brother here longer."
Ober underwent testing, including an EKG, chest X-rays and blood work just days before the surgery. During surgery, doctors will make two incisions on her back below her waist, near the spine. A needle will be inserted into each side and used to extract the bone marrow.
"They'll collect up to two liters of bone marrow," Ober said.
It sounds like a lot, but they figure out the amount according the weight of the recipient, in this case, Jahnke.
"They told me my back will feel like I've been kicked in the back by a horse," she said matter-of-factly. The doctors recommend "the more I can get up and walk around, the better it will be."
Ober will be sore for a few days and monitored to be sure she doesn't need a blood transfusion.
As difficult as it will be, Ober is glad to be able to do it.
"It was my turn to stand up for the family and keep him from being sick anymore," she said.
Originally, Jahnke was supposed to have Ober's marrow transplanted immediately, but he found out he needs to have a couple of teeth extracted. The doctors must eliminate any risk of infection, so they postponed the transplant.
To prepare his body to receive his sister's bone marrow, Jahnke will undergo heavy doses of chemo for the week preceding his transplant, meaning he will miss the benefit, which will include a live auction and meal.
"A bunch of people came together and donated," Jahnke said.
Southern Jack's donated the space, a deejay will perform and step-daughter Paige will sing.
"A friend from Buffalo Center who's a really good singer will sing," he added. "Another friend will videotape it and put it on DVD so we can watch it up here. Friends and family support is huge."
Just days later, Jahnke will have the transplant, which will be administered through a Hickman catheter in his chest.
"I have two tubes that stay in there," Jahnke said.
That's how he gets blood transfusions and how the transplant will be done. After the transplant, he will remain in the hospital for about 100 days to be monitored and make sure the transplant takes.
For a while now, he and Heidi have spent more time in Rochester than at home in Buffalo Center, Iowa. Their children stay with relatives.
"The hardest thing is being away from my kids," Jahnke said of Paige, 10; and daughter, Macy, 10 months. "The girls are having a hard time dealing with it. I'm more worked up about that than what I'm going through.
"I'm lucky to have Heidi up here to support me the way she does," Jahnke said.
"God is on our side," Heidi said.