At three months old, the little boy’s brain was already swollen and bleeding from violent shaking.
The brain bleeding was so severe doctors said the boy had only a 1 percent chance of long-term survival and if he did survive, he would not be able to talk, walk or function independently.
Jack Burken, now 8 years old, has fought past every barrier like the super hero figures he idolizes. He walks, talks, is potty-trained, knows colors and is beginning to read words and sound them out. He attends school, with the help of a special associate, in a mainstream classroom of Ekstrand Elementary in DeWitt.
“He is just Jack to us,’’ said adoptive mom Julie Burken. “He is our child.’’
Jack is making remarkable progress with the assistance of the therapy staff of Genesis Outpatient Pediatric Therapy (GOPEDS) in Bettendorf. Once a week, Jack works with speech therapist Jen Berger, physical therapist Allyson Wennlund, physical therapy assistant Jodi Airgood and occupational therapist Ashley Devaney.
“The progress has been amazing,’’ Julie Burken said. “He has surpassed all expectations. He walks, talks, jokes around. If you had seen him a year ago and then today, the differences are truly amazing.
“The therapists have been able to connect with him. They have gotten him to do things doctors thought he would never do. He works for them.’’
On a recent day at GOPEDS, Jack was showing off for Genesis photographer Greg Boll. Jack made sure he saw all the photos Boll was shooting and Wennlund said it was one of Jack’s best therapy sessions. Suspended by a special suit, he repeatedly flipped forward and backward.
The Burkens have had Jack – first as a fostered child, now as an adopted child – since he was 3 months old. They have three other children; 14-year-old Javier, Joseph (12) and Molly (10).
The little boy with the severe traumatic brain injuries ended up with the Burkens starting with a phone call.
“The foster system people called and explained the situation, that he had been a shaken baby, and asked if we would take him as a temporary placement,’’ Julie said.
Only weeks after finding out they could adopt Jack, the Burkens were on vacation in Chicago. While visiting the Museum of Science and Industry, their son, Joseph, who had complained of headaches, collapsed and was transported immediately to a Chicago hospital. The diagnosis was an inoperable brain tumor.
Joseph had 15 months of chemotherapy. He is now five years past treatment. The tumor remains inoperable but “he is just a normal kid,’’ according to Julie.
“It was a lot to go through at the same time; knowing we could adopt Jack and how to meet his long-term needs and at the same time taking care of a child with a cancer diagnosis,’’ Julie said. “It was scary. We prayed a lot.’’
The next step for the Burkens was to make Jack a permanent member of their family. In October 2011, what was already in the heart of the Burken family was made legal when Jack was adopted.
When Julie and Wade Burken were considering adopting Jack, they talked and prayed about the decision. Driving in his car one day, Wade was listening to the Martina McBride song, “God’s Will.” The song tells the story of a neighborhood boy with special needs and the struggles of his mother.
“We believed Jack was God’s will for us,’’ Julie said. “Having Jack is seeing God at work. His recovery has been nothing short of a miracle. So many things fell into place when we decided to adopt him.’’
Jack continues to make progress his doctors never expected. One of the first advancements was his vision. Doctors were not certain what level of vision Jack would have from his left eye because of retinal hemorrhaging resulting from the shaking trauma. They believed he also could be colorblind.
“When we first had him, it didn’t seem that he could focus or look directly at anything, including us when feeding him or talking to him. Then one day he started focusing on a bottle when he wanted it,’’ Julie explained. “Now if you look at him, he looks right back at you. He knows colors, so he is not colorblind.’’
Providing care for the Burkens’ four children takes a team. Stacey Brown provides respite care for Julie and Wade and takes Jack to appointments. Cindy Ryan cares for the children when Julie and Wade are working. Grandparents also help with transporting kids to events and appointments.
“Cindy, Stacey, along with family members, are a huge support system you need when you have medically complex or special needs children,’’ Julie said.
Julie said school staff and Jack’s classmates also play an important role.
“The other kids have been amazing really. They are very protective of him. We wondered, would he have friends and would kids play with him? He does have school friends who are so sweet with him. Jack has a big heart and they show love and compassion right back to him.
‘“I’ve asked everyone at school to not place boundaries on Jack. He is expected to follow the rules but I want him challenged to grow and develop. He will surpass expectations many times if he has the chance.’’Share this story.