One year later, some Woodridge residents still struggling with effects of tornado
Driving through Woodridge, visitors see beautiful homes and a clean community. But inside those homes are families still suffering from the effects of the EF-3 tornado that took so much away from them one year ago.
The Wilsons are one of those families.
Katie Wilson and her husband, Brian, were waiting to close on a house in Woodridge in June 2021. For the interim, they decided to stay with Brian's parents, Tammy and Bill Wilson, who also lived in Woodridge.
The Wilsons weren't just expecting to move into their new home. They also were expecting their second child.
On the night of June 20, tornado sirens blared, and Katie ran upstairs to get her 5-year-old daughter, Ryen. A tree came crashing through the house. Ryen was unharmed, but Katie suffered life-threatening injuries, and she and Brian lost the baby they were expecting.
After months of hospitalization, Katie learned she had suffered multiple strokes and fractures. Doctors removed part of her skull and contemplated amputating her arm.
Meanwhile, Brian learned the home he and his wife were expecting to close on had been destroyed by the tornado. Brian and Ryen moved in with Katie's parents.
Despite the terror of that day, Katie and her family recently moved into the home they had hoped to close on in 2021. Katie also is taking on a new challenge: college.
"At some point, I just figured I might as well use this as an opportunity," Katie said. "I'm very hopeful it'll pan out, and I'm looking forward to it."
Katie plans to pursue special education teaching, something she's always wanted to do but couldn't find the time. As she prepares to tackle online school, she also is tackling the reality of recovery, learning slowly to do day-to-day things and hoping to walk again one day.
While doctors have been unable to tell Katie when or to what extent she can expect to recover, Brian said she's exceeded everyone's expectations. He recalled a time when Katie couldn't lift her head off the pillow on her own, and now he marvels at everything she accomplishes.
"You're sitting on a patio one night, and the next, your wife is in the hospital, and your whole world is in a whirlwind," Brian said. "I didn't think I was going to be able to do it, but you don't even think -- you just do what your family needs. It's been a journey, but it's made us closer."
In addition to the physical recovery, there also are psychological side effects for the tornado survivors. Katie, for example, said recent sirens sent her and Brian into a panic.
They aren't the only family facing these fears.
Fellow survivors Joe and Valerie Tancredi said they worry not just about their mental health, but about that of their youngest son, Jameson.
The Tancredis have three children, Jameson, 10, Hunter, 15, and Anthony, 23. Anthony was down the street with his grandparents when the tornado hit, while Jameson and Hunter hid in the bathroom with their parents. Jameson was in the bathtub with a mattress covering him when a tree came crashing in.
Valerie and Joe said they began to worry about Jameson in the days after the tornado. He wanted to sleep in their room and was presenting other signs of regression, Valerie said.
"You can't be afraid to get help -- especially for your kids," Valerie said. "I was really embarrassed at the time, but there is no shame in this. You deal with this for a very long time, so you have to reach out to people for resources."
The Tancredis continue to face issues with their home, which they have been unable to return to. The family moved temporarily into the basement of Valerie's parents' house, which also suffered damage from the tornado.
The family's insurance paid for a rental house in Naperville, but that money quickly ran out. Costs relating to the repair of their home have been denied despite the home continuing to be unlivable nearly a year later, Joe said.
"Everything was a fight and still is to this day," Valerie said. "We've had to fight tooth and nail. It makes me wonder, you know, is this what it's like for everybody? It happens, and you hear about it, but then it's out of your mind and there are families still dealing with it. We're still dealing with it."
Despite the significant trauma these families have faced, both said the support they've received from Woodridge Mayor Gina Cunningham shined through. Brian and Joe said they were touched by Cunningham's personal outreach and continued support.
Cunningham, Joe said, made sure the city did not create additional obstacles for families trying to recover. She was proactive and brought the community together at a time when it was needed most, he said.
"All of the help we received from Mayor Cunningham stood out so much," Joe said. "She personally reached out and came by, not just our house, but all of our neighbors' houses, too. I didn't know that kind of thing still happened."