Courtesy of Keith Bangert
In June 2018, 15-year-old Josh Bangert was playing basketball when vision in his left eye became blurry. At first, he suspected dehydration was the issue. When the teen still struggled to see in school, he went to an optometrist expecting to receive a prescription for glasses. Instead, he was given a life-changing diagnosis: Josh had a progressive disease that would likely rob him of his sight within a few months, and there was no medication or treatment for it.
Josh lay in his bed crying and praying after his diagnosis. Then, he picked himself up and went for a bike ride to empty his mind. When he returned, his seven siblings kept him company the entire night and teased him about what he wanted to see for his last meal.
As Josh accepted his condition, his community in West Chicago, Illinois, rallied around him. A family friend suggested the high school sophomore create a bucket list of things he wanted to see and set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money. The campaign quickly surpassed its initial goal of $20,000 thanks to the generosity of hundreds of strangers. Growing up with such a large family made it expensive for the Bangerts to travel far from their home in West Chicago, but their financial burdens have been alleviated thanks to the nearly 550 donations totaling more than $38,000 as of this writing.
“The community response is just amazing, but I know God has helped us through all of this,” Josh told the Chicago Tribune. “He chose me for a reason, and our community. He knew that we could do this. It’s awesome to see everyone reunite and do good.”
Recently, Josh crossed off two items from his bucket list: a St. Louis Cardinals Game at Busch Stadium and a Chicago Bulls game. The Chicago teen met his favorite baseball player, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, as well as Molina's teammates. At the Chicago Bulls game, Josh got up close and personal with rookie Bulls player Chris Hutchinson, who was pushed onto Josh's lap by an opponent during a play.
Because Josh's condition — called Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy — is fast-acting, he and his family don't know when exactly Josh will lose vision in both eyes. "After losing sight in the first eye, a person with Leber’s disease can expect to lose sight in the second eye about eight weeks later. Josh started losing sight in his left eye back in June... [so] it would seem he is on borrowed time," reads his GoFundMe page.
Josh can still see out of his right eye, but eventually, that too will start to go. “It could be like two weeks from now, it could be a month that I wake up and I don’t have vision in my right eye,” Josh told the Tribune.
In addition to seeing his favorite teams play, Josh has been able to cross off seing the ocean and visiting California from his list. His father, Keith, told WomansWorld.com that the family will head to Arizona at the end of the month to see the desert and the Grand Canyon. Still on the list are Mount Rushmore, the Northern Lights, and skydiving.
Any money that's left over from the GoFundMe will go towards Josh's medical expenses, said his mother, Margaret. As hard as it is for any parent to watch as their child battles an incurable disease, Josh has been a source of strength for everyone. "He is a wonderful young man who has been dealt a tough situation but has a tremendous outlook on his future, grace be to God for that," Keith told us.
“This is all temporary," Josh said in his interview with the Tribune. "There’s a bigger place in heaven for me where everything will be perfect.”
If you would like to make sure Josh and his family can continue working through Josh's bucket list, you can donate to their GoFundMe here.