By Dan Russo
CEDAR RAPIDS — Being able to walk into his home parish and speak to the people there is not something Ryan Jansa takes for granted. It wasn’t long ago, after an incident that left him with a traumatic brain injury, that the Cedar Rapids area native couldn’t speak or move his legs.
“I talk about how my brain injury was the wake up call I needed to turn my life around,” said Jansa recently. “I pray every day, at least a couple of times a day and thank (God) for the life he made for me.”
The 26-year-old did an interview with The Witness March 8, just hours before he stood up in front of over 300 people at St. Wenceslaus Church, the parish he has belonged to since childhood, to tell his story of adversity and recovery. Catholic Evangelization Outreach (CEO), a lay ministry during which people share their personal witness about Christ’s role in their lives, sponsored the event.
Jansa has always believed in God and has the love of a great family, but he admits he got off track. In high school, he began drinking. After graduating in 2010, he went to the University of Iowa. Three years into college, alcohol had become a “huge problem.”
“I was almost always too hung over on Sunday to go to church in college,” he recalled.
Jansa left college in his third year. Not long after, following a second arrest for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, the court ordered Jansa to attend Alcoholics Anonymous classes. The warnings from older AA participants didn’t have an impact.
“I was only 24 years old, and I was thinking I don’t have a drinking problem compared to my friends and peers in college,” he remembered.
Then came May 14, 2016. Jansa and some friends went out drinking in Iowa City, spending most of the night at a bar.
“That’s pretty much the last thing I remember is being in the bar,” he said. “The garbage company found me in an alley near my friend’s apartment around six in the morning.”
After being found on College Street, Jansa was rushed to the University of Iowa Hospital. He was in a coma for about a month — having suffered severe brain damage, a broken right arm, and a fracture in the neck. While unconscious, he suffered a stroke, which caused him to lose much of the use of his left arm. When he woke up, his condition was a shock.
“I was really upset at the physical aspects of how my life had been altered,” said Jansa. “It took me a month after waking up from the comma to get my voice back again. It took me a while before I was able to walk on my own”
Those early days after regaining consciousness were very hard.
“I had suicidal thoughts on a daily basis,” he said. “That was before I could walk and talk and do many other things. At first I thought why me? And why did this have to happen to me? Then later on I thought why not me? What was I doing in my life that was so great?”
His father, mother, three brothers and sister stayed with him, praying and offering what support they could. Eventually, the darkness lifted, and Jansa started to make progress on the road to recovery and a new normal.
After leaving the hospital, Jansa was sent to an in-patient rehab facility in Ankeny. After about three months, he slowly began to walk again.
“One other patient told me, you can’t just look at the big picture, you have to take it one goal at a time,” said Jansa. “We quickly found that laughter was the best way to get through it.”
A police investigation into what happened to Jansa didn’t reveal anything about what caused the injuries. Doctors speculated that they were caused by a collision with a vehicle. About 22 months into his recovery, some are surprised at the extent of Jansa’s improvement.
“When I went to see my brain surgeon, he was like ‘You’re 500 percent better than where I thought you’d be,’” he said.
While recovering, Jansa met other patients struggling with worse injuries than his and gained a sense of perspective on his situation.
“No matter how hard your situation is, someone always has it worse,” he reflected.
Jansa now lives with his parents and goes to exercise classes and outpatient physical rehabilitation. Once a week, he volunteers to help at a local school with kindergarten students who are struggling. He is also receiving treatment for vision problems caused by the stroke.
Jansa’s is now hoping to bicycle again. He was an avid trail rider before the incident and is having a special bike made to accommodate him. He also hopes to one-day drive a car again.
The young man is grateful to his family, the community and the doctors and therapists who have helped him get this far. He has resolved to never drink again for the rest of his life and is cultivating a strong faith.
“Besides my amazing family, God has been my other constant,” said Jansa. “He’s always been there in times of need.” A video of Jansa’s talk March 8 will be posted soon on the CEO website at crceo.info.
Ryan Jansa (center) is pictured with his brothers, sister and parents while re-cover-ing from serious injuries suffered in 2016. The family is wearing a special shirt with the words ‘Jansa Strong’ on it.
Jansa is pictured in the University of Iowa Hospital shortly after being injured in 2016.