RENTON — It’s a story of grit and determination. A young man, who nearly died, now is showing others what it means to lead by example.
“We didn’t even know if he was going to make it that first day,” says Cheryl Balke, mother of 14-year-old John Balke.
With a gentle pat on the shoulder, John became a cadet sergeant in the Civil Air Patrol in Renton.
“It’s a day-by-day challenge for the whole family. He’s got good days and bad days,” says John’s father, Stewart.
The shiny new pins on John's collar of his cadet uniform is a sign of lessons learned. But just above that, another reminder of a much bigger lesson is still taped to his cheek.
On Feb. 3, John suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and no one was quite sure he'd pull through.
“A vein and an artery did not form properly where they meet and it was a weak spot and it popped. He had a cerebral hemorrhage at the cerebellum, which controls all your automatic functions,” says Stewart.
“Every time a doctor came through the door, I figured it would be them telling us he hadn't made it and it was terrifying,” says Cheryl.
But John survived after four hours of brain surgery and four and a half weeks at Seattle Children's Hospital. He finally returned home to Maple Valley on March 6 -- and the only place he wanted to be was right back with his fellow cadets.
“Every week he looks forward to coming here to this meeting and doing all his requirements for promoting and moving forward,” says Cheryl.
John is still healing and right now his mom and dad must always be nearby to help. He requires a feeding tube because he can't swallow. He's still a bit weaker on left side so he can't move as easily. And his voice is still but a whisper.
But each week, John comes to cadet training because he can learn. And, in turn, so is everyone around him.
“To see John just bounce right back, he came to the meetings, he was here every week. He was ready to go, ‘Yes, Sir. No, Sir. Yes, Ma'am. Let’s do this thing!’ It was really awesome”, says Colette Sweer, a fellow cadet.
John says his goal is to be a leader. And don't the best ones lead by example? He's doing just that -- leading his family and his friends through to the other side of this scary experience.
“When we look at it compared to what he was earlier, and it’s been 14 weeks since the incident, seeing him then and looking at him then and now, it’s a big change. I’m proud of him. He's worked hard,” says Stewart.
John says he plans on becoming a Marine some day.
If you would like to help John’s family and make a donation towards his medical bills: http://www.gofundme.com/qg49d8