By Kathy Hanks / The Hutchinson News / khanks@hutchnews.com

A few years ago, a local paper ran a story titled "Undying Bond, Father and Grandson bond through the toughest of times". I have enclosed the article. It was written about my dad and Joe. Joe was diagnosed with brain cancer in Aug of 2013. My dad was diagnosed with heart disease in 1996, being confined to his bed for the last 15 years. He passed away on Sept 29th of this year. My dad and Joe were great for each other. Many hours were spent together in dad's room resting and watching old westerns and sports. When my family desired that the memorials for my dad go to brain cancer research, I immediately thought of Team Jack. Two of Joe's Dr's, Dr Foreman and Dr Kieran, both have ties to Team Jack. It was one of many reasons that made us feel like Team Jack was a great choice for the memorial. Our experience with all of the people associated with Team Jack has been so positive and we think of them as extended family. We are very proud to say that the Jack Duft memorial made an impact on brain pediatric cancer research!

Sincerely,
Bisterfeldt Family

Total amount raised In Loving Memory was $2,400.

John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Joe Bisterfeldt’s best times with his granddad Jack Duft are spent watching old westerns, where the good guys always triumph.

In real life, Joe and Jack are the good guys, both waging battles against illness.

“It’s all about westerns,” said Joe, 15, speaking of his time with his 65-year-old granddad Jack, who is in hospice care. Together they watch TV shows like “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza” from Jack’s hospital bed in the room he continues to share with his wife, Shirley, in their Sterling home where they raised three children across from the town’s lake.

For as long as Joe can remember, his grandfather has had a debilitating heart condition. Even on the visit to the hospital to see his first grandchild, Jack arrived in a wheelchair pushed by Shirley. For the past six years Jack has been in a hospice program, and for the past five years he hasn’t left his bed except to go to the bathroom.

His pain is managed by hospice staff and in recent days he has been sleeping more. He is easily worn out by visitors, but he will tell you he doesn’t mind being worn out by visits from family.

Jack will also tell you that his grandchildren are all good-looking and above average, but when Jack looks in Joe’s eyes he sees something different: He sees himself.

In the past year an even stronger bond has formed between the two, ever since it was discovered that Joe has an inoperable brain tumor.

“Joe has a special place in my heart,” said Jack. “For what he is going through he is a pretty remarkable young man.”

On the table next to Jack’s bed is a large booster-club button from Joe’s school, Berean Academy. It’s from basketball season and Joe is looking strong and athletic wearing his yellow No. 34 basketball jersey and holding a ball. Next to it is a small wooden cross.

About Joe

Like his siblings Caleb, 13, Laura, 11, and Caroline, 7, Joe was home-schooled by his mother, Amy. But he began attending Elbing’s Berean Academy when he started seventh grade. The family has moved several times because their dad, Bobby Bisterfeldt, is in the military and currently is a master sergeant in intelligence at Wichita’s McConnell Air Force Base.

“He acts like most 15-year-olds,” Laura says of Joe, sounding like a child development expert.

Being normal is paramount to most teenagers, and Joe is no exception. He’s a strong athlete who participates in soccer, baseball, football, basketball and track. But, out of the blue last August, the world shifted for Joe and his family when he had three seizures in one night.

Joe had gone to sleep. About midnight, Amy and Bobby heard banging in his room. Bobby went to check on Joe and saw him staring and unresponsive. They quickly called a neighbor who is a physician’s assistant for help. The neighbor recognized that Joe was having a seizure and called an ambulance that took him from their rural Whitewater home in Butler County to Newton.

Tests were done, but a CT scan didn’t reveal anything abnormal, so Joe was sent home. Then, as soon as he went to sleep, he had another seizure. The ambulance returned, and at the Newton ER they decided to transfer Joe to Wichita, where he had a grand mal seizure.

The night before Joe’s brain biopsy was scheduled, 75 kids from Berean Academy and their parents packed the chapel and held a prayer vigil at Wesley Medical Center.

It took several days before the results were back, but an inoperable tumor was discovered. They began treating Joe with high-powered steroids. A rare side effect can be a perforated bowel, and back at home it happened: Poisons were leaking into Joe’s system.

“He was rolling on the floor, screaming in intense pain,” Amy said. “As a parent, it was the worst thing to see.”

There wasn’t time for an ambulance. Bobby scooped his son up and drove to the hospital. Following abdominal surgery Joe was in ICU for days, and the intense pain lasted for weeks.

A perpetual prayer vigil was held by students and parents. Joe spent 40 days in the hospital and eventually a much-weakened version of him slipped back to school.

But by May, Joe blended in easily with his classmates as he stretched and prepared for track practice. He looked like all the others, fit and muscular.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Coach Lewis Wiebe, who treats Joe like all the other students. “I praise the Lord what he has accomplished.”

During track season Joe came in first in several meets and experienced the success he had in the past. Keeping active is good for Joe and keeps his mind occupied.

“He’s doing a great job,” Wiebe said.

Classmates say Joe has been doing so well it’s easy for them to forget he is ill.

High school art teacher and assistant track coach Anne Morrow said the student body pulls together when there is a crisis. For Joe there have been prayer vigils and students made T-shirts and wristbands with Joe’s special Bible verse, John 16:33, which speaks of overcoming this world.

Even at such a young age, Joe has strong faith: He says he’s not afraid to die.

“It’s going to happen someday,” he says. He believes life is today, here and now.

“Overcomer” was chosen by Bobby as the perfect word to describe his son. It was while Joe was in the hospital at Wesley Medical Center that Bobby, listening to a Christian radio station, heard a song that had the aforementioned Bible passage, and he knew that was Joe.

The close-knit Bisterfeldts pray together and have a time of devotion each day. At first they were devastated when doctors said Joe had a year to live. After more tests, they changed that to five or six years. Physicians at Boston Children’s Hospital, who are involved with his case, don’t believe in such timelines.

“They believe in hope,” Amy said.

While Joe’s attention span has shortened, and the family can see changes in his personality and balance, he still thrives on his sporting activities, despite the painful muscles after overexerting himself.

What the future holds, the Bisterfeldts don’t know.

“If it doesn’t get any worse than this,” says Amy, her words drifting off for a second, “we can live with this.”

For Amy, it’s her mom Shirley who has taught her how to be strong. Amy was a freshman in college, dating Bobby, when Jack had his open heart surgery. Amy says her dad never bounced back. But there was Shirley, always the nurturer and caregiver to Jack. She continued to work driving a bus as well as working part-time at a business in Sterling. Then a few years ago she went through breast cancer, but she kept going for Jack. She’s in remission now, and nurturing everyone else. That’s Shirley’s nature, her daughter said.

Because Joe’s tumor affects the brain stem, it makes his muscles tight. He is working with a physical therapist on stretching his muscles to help him relax.

This summer, Joe has had mostly good days. The physical therapy seems to be helping. He is playing in Newton Babe Ruth League and lifting weights.

About Jack

Shirley smoothes the covers over Jack and pats the comforter as she edges closer to the love of her life. These days Jack has been really tired and sleeping a lot, but hanging in there.

He stays in touch with Joe through text messages. When it comes to all of Joe’s sporting activities, Jack wants to know how each game turns out.

“He usually texts me and tells me to try my hardest and do my best,” Joe said. And then there were tips when Joe went to his prom.

Jack told Joe he should hold the door open for his date and push in her chair.

“She acted surprised,” Joe said.

Jack knows about wooing a lady. He managed to win Shirley’s heart when he was home on leave from Vietnam.

“I fell in love,” said Shirley, of their few dates before he returned to battle. But when Jack called her on a radio telephone from overseas to ask if she would marry him, she thought: Let’s go for this!

After his time in Vietnam, Jack served in England. Then he and Shirley returned to Kansas and eventually settled in Sterling. Jack managed the local Farm Bureau agency and Shirley worked in several beauty shops, then became a bus driver for ESSDACK, as they began raising their three children, Eric, Ryan and Amy, followed by 11 grandchildren.

It was back in 1996 when Jack began having chest pains, and tests proved his heart was so badly damaged it was an instance of what usually is called “the widow-maker.” Poor heart conditions are hereditary in Jack’s family.

After open heart surgery, he just wasn’t getting better. Over the years, he has gone through 27 heart catheterizations and had 18 stents put in.

Six years ago Jack entered a hospice program. The first year he could still get up, but he hasn’t left his house since then. The world comes to him, including Gentiva Hospice. Jack and Shirley never imagined they would have hospice care for so long, but a team has been there for them.

″“We had no idea what it would be like, but you guys are like a family,” Jack tells Chase Hill, a Gentiva chaplain who visits him regularly.

“We feel we are part of the Duft family,” Chase replies.

With visits from hospice and good neighbors, Shirley is free to continue part-time work, attend her grandchildren’s sporting events or even hop on her bicycle and ride around Sterling Lake. But when she is home she is a buzz of activity around Jack, as his primary caregiver.

Not only does technology help Jack stay connected with Joe and all his family, it helps him stay connected with more than 100 people to whom he sends a daily Bible passage.

“If I’m late one day, people get worried,” says the soft-spoken Jack.

Jack says his strength comes from the Lord.

“I don’t know how people could live without God,” he told Chase during a visit.

Like his grandson, Jack says he is not afraid to die. He believes this is not the end, but he knows it will be hard for Shirley and the rest of the family.

“Do you feel the burden of being strong?” Chase asked.

“Yes, I do,” Jack said softly. He said his wife is strong, but “gets teary-eyed about Joe.”

His prayer is for the family, for healing for Joe and that God gives them strength to face whatever comes.

“The Lord has plans for me,” Jack said. “When he is ready for me, I’ll be ready.”