Dying wish: Man who has defied disease now spreading hope with days he has left

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – For the last eight years, 27 year old Joshua Jank has spent each day living like it is his last, all while sharing a message of hope and love to people all across the world through red diamonds.

Josh was born with sickle cell anemia, a disease that breaks down red blood cells. He was put up for adoption and the Jank family welcomed him into their home when he was six months old. Like many boys, Josh grew up enjoying a few passions which included planes and farming. At five years old, he started experiencing strokes which began his journey receiving blood transfusions. When Josh was ten, he received an Asperger’s diagnosis and developed a disease called hepatopulmonary syndrome.

“My liver is creating toxins that are destroying my lungs. It’s an incurable diagnosis, the one way to cure it would be a liver transplant but the sickle cell would destroy the new liver,” Josh says.

At age 19, Josh landed in the hospice house and has been saying goodbye to his family and friends over and over again ever since. 

“The doctor gave him 2 to 10 days to live,” mom Brenda Jank says.

Josh with his hospice nurses.

Eight years later, Josh has far surpassed all odds to be alive. 

“The hospice team calls him their comeback kid. Every day is a gift, every night when I say goodnight to Josh he is at such a risk for stroke, that it’s just living intentionally and knowing when I hug this kid and kiss him goodnight, that this might be the last gift of that,” Brenda explains. 

Josh and his mom Brenda share that his blood work numbers are so non-conducive to life, doctors call him a walking miracle. His levels are at a number where most others would be considered deceased. 

Josh sharing a hug with his mom, Brenda Jank.

“I feel safer in the hospital than I do at home I’ve been at the hospital so many times,” Josh explains.

A mission was birthed out of an incurable diagnosis. After he landed in hospice care years ago, Josh decided he wanted to pass out 100,000 red diamonds before the disease took his life as a way to share a message of hope to others. 

“It’s red for love and it’s a diamond because God does good things under heat and pressure,” Josh explains.

Josh far surpassed his initial goal. So far, over 700,000 red diamonds have been handed out to people all around the world along with a message of hope and love. The Jank family has heard stories of people receiving red diamonds from all 50 states and even 23 countries. His friend was so inspired by all Josh was doing that he created a website for him so that his message could reach even more people.

United flight attendants with red diamonds from Josh.

“We were actually at Riley with our son Joseph and someone came up to us to give us a red diamond,” Brenda shares. “The stories that come in from orphanages, from recovery centers, from heroin addicts from the streets of Chicago, and Harvard University. We were speaking to sixth grade health students and afterwards we had a little girl who came up and wrapped her arms around us and said that her sister had died and somebody had given her red diamonds and she kept one for herself and put the other one in her sister’s casket at the funeral home. It’s humbling to be part of something so much bigger than we ever imagined,” Brenda tearfully says.

When Josh initially found out about the severity of his diagnosis, he thought about all the things he wanted to do. He thought of scuba diving and skydiving – but decided instead to formulate a “go make a difference list.” On that list, Josh has raised awareness for sickle cell anemia with the Red Cross. He has also helped a young orphan boy named Jing find a family in Nebraska. 

Josh encouraging others to donate blood.

Throughout all the changes in his health, one thing has remained consistent; his passions for planes and farming. Josh can distinguish what model of plane is flying overhead just by hearing the sound of its engine.

“Sometimes I get depressed and wonder why God chose me to go through this. Initially before my diagnosis I wanted to be a pilot and fly helicopters and planes on medevac missions but the sickle cell diagnosis curbed that. I was actually working on my pilot’s license and at Smith Field I was doing some flight training,” Josh explains. He says his favorite plane is the one he trained in which is a Diamond DA20 because it’s easy, economical, and a “nice little plane.”

Josh says the most important thing to him is family. “Family is the number one thing, the biggest thing and the most important thing of all too. Family is definitely a gift from God,” Josh says passionately.

Josh is one of five children in the Jank family, three of which are adopted with special needs. Brenda wrote a book about the gift of family and the illustrations on each page feature a red diamond. The book is called: God’s Gift of Family. It celebrates how every family is different and no family is created the same way.

The book God’s Gift of Family written by Josh’s mom, Brenda.

“Some people like to say God will never give you something too hard you can’t handle. The way it goes is God will never give you something He can’t handle,” Josh says. His dying wish is that the word of God gets out to the whole world. To read more on Josh’s story and support his mission, visit the Red Diamond Days website.

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