Thankful this Thanksgiving: Residents grateful for life, friends, family and new opportunities

Nick Thielk, 30, has his blood pressure taken by Lisa Cowan, a registered nurse, prior to his rehabilitation session Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in the Cardiac Rehabilitation Gym at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb. Thielk received a heart transplant in August.

Members of the community have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving – here are a few of their stories.

Nick Thielk: Thankful for Life

Without receiving a heart transplant through Northwestern Medicine, 30-year-old Nick Thielk of DeKalb would probably not be alive this Thanksgiving.

Thielk was first diagnosed with heart failure due to a genetic condition in July 2015, when he was 23. For the past eight years, he lived an almost normal life: he worked as a hotel services coordinator at ALE Solutions in St. Charles, married his wife Katie, bought a house, and spent time with his two dogs, Maggie and Nala. In 2016, he had a pacemaker put in and had a cardiac ablation to help with rhythm issues in 2018.

In April, Thielk began suffering what he thought was a stomach or gastrointestinal issue. He was often short of breath and had lower stomach pain. At the end of June, his doctors at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital told him he would need a heart transplant. In July, he was placed on a transplant list, and on Aug. 6, he was notified a heart had been found.

Thielk’s heart transplant surgery took nine hours on Aug. 6.

“They removed my old heart completely, sent it to pathology, put the donor’s heart in, and connected the arteries,” Thielk said. “I woke up after the surgery with a breathing tube down my throat. The tube came out three hours post surgery. I couldn’t talk or open my eyes at first. I just remember being thirsty and I requested orange juice.”

Since the surgery, Thielk attends cardio therapy at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital. He said after the surgery and therapy, he has “learned what it’s like to feel normal.”

“I felt so bad for so long, I didn’t know how sluggish and without energy I was,” he said. “I feel like I’m 16 years old again. It feels like I turned back the clock. Every day I feel great. It’s like I have a whole new body, even though I’m still recovering. Every day is just wonderful.”

In addition to his new heart, Thielk said he also has a new outlook on life.

“Anything bad that happens is a small thing now,” he said. “If an appliance breaks or I stub my toe, it’s not a big deal. Everything now has a different perspective, and it’s a great perspective to have.”

Thielk said he is looking forward to the future and spending time with his wife, dogs, family and friends. He’s excited about golfing, exercising more, playing basketball and riding his bicycle in the spring.

“I want to do the simple things,” he said. “There’s nothing really crazy that I want to do. … It just feels like a dark cloud has been lifted. Everything is a positive experience. Due to COVID, it’s probably just going to be a scaled-down Thanksgiving with just immediate family, but it’s going to be a really special holiday season this year.”

Thielk said this year he is most grateful for the gift of life.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have the heart, or I’d be close to dying, waiting in the hospital for one,” he said. “We were hoping to be home by Thanksgiving with a new heart if we were lucky. Now I’m home and healthy. I wouldn’t be here without my medical team at Northwestern Medicine or the heart donation. … If you have your health, you have everything. Don’t take it for granted. Every single day I’m grateful.”

Betty Dombroski is thankful to have moved into Barb City Manor in DeKalb this year, where she has made new friends and enjoys activities and programs.

Betty Dombroski: Thankful for Friends

Earlier this year, 86-year-old Betty Dombroski fell and fractured her hip. She moved in with her daughter, but her daughter worked all day, and Dombroski was left home alone.

“I was sitting in my room, feeling sorry for myself, and I was home by myself often,” she said.

In August, Dombroski moved to Barb City Manor in DeKalb, where she has kept busy with activities, movie nights, bingo and chatting with new friends over coffee.

“I love it here,” she said. “There’s always something going on and something to do. There are three meals a day and a menu to choose from. I never have to do laundry. There’s a van that can take you to stores or doctor appointments.”

One big difference Dombroski noticed is that at Barb City Manor, she’s never alone.

“I’ve met so many people and am making friends,” she said. “I’m happy I’m not alone. It’s nice having people I can talk to. I don’t even have to venture out of the building, everyone and everything is here.”

Dombroski’s family visits her, bringing snacks and gifts. In total, she has six children, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. She has sisters that live overseas in her native England.

“I have my own room, with my own furniture, and I like having company,” she said. “It’s just like being at home, but it’s also almost like a vacation. We even have people that stop in to do our hair and nails.”

Dombroski said that she is happy to have moved into Barb City Manor.

“I have everything to be grateful for,” she said. “I’m very thankful.”

The Clegg family celebrates Halloween together. Tynisha and Cary Clegg have three biological children of their own, ages 15, 17 and 22, and they will adopt two siblings they have been fostering.

Tynisha Clegg: Thankful for Family

Tynisha Clegg, executive director Family Service Agency of DeKalb County, usually spends her day helping others in the community.

FSA’s mission statement is that it “exists to strengthen people and communities through hope, healing, empowerment and engagement.” The multi-service organization offers programming for young children to older adults.

“Our overall vision is to meet the needs of individuals and their families within DeKalb County with a particular focus on those who are most vulnerable and under-sourced,” Clegg said. “We want to help people change their lives and help them through that.”

This holiday season, the mission of Clegg’s job has hit a little closer to home: Clegg and her husband Cary are going through the process of adopting two foster siblings in their care. Together, the couple also has three biological children, ages 15, 17 and 22, and they live in Byron.

“I personally never thought about adoption before, but then we helped foster a family member for approximately 18 months,” she said. “It definitely gave additional experience with the system. I learned about DCFS from more than just an executive director standpoint.”

In July 2019, the Clegg family received a call to take on two foster children from a relative. The two siblings were ages 2 and 10 months old. At the time, the family thought it would be a temporary situation.

“It was definitely a change to have babies in the house again,” she said. “We took them in and now, here we are, starting the adoption process with them. It’s been two and a half years we’ve been blessed to have them in our family. They have really made our home cheerful. We have little giggles and laughs in the house again.”

The family hopes to make the adoption official within the coming months.

“We’re looking forward to adopting them and officially making them a part of our family,” Clegg said.

The family plans on having three upcoming celebrations with their extended family: a large Thanksgiving meal with two turkeys, a festive Christmas gathering and a party once the adoptions have been finalized.

“We’ll have our whole family over, with kids playing and everyone eating and getting together,” Clegg said. “A lot of amazing, exciting things going on in our family, and we’re looking forward to celebrating all of those things.”

In addition to expanding the family, Clegg is looking forward to her daughter’s high school graduation and her son learning to drive.

“With two young children in the house, we’re not starting over, we’re continuing on,” she said. “When we got that call, I’m so glad that we said yes. It’s resulted in where we are now. We’re able to give two children the life they deserve and create a different future for them.”

Daveyon Bradley of DeKalb poses for a photo with his family: his son Daveyon Bradley Jr., his wife Deborah and his daughter Dalilah.

Daveyon Bradley: Thankful for New Opportunities

When asked what he’s most thankful for this year, Daveyon Bradley of DeKalb said it was the opportunity to watch his son, Daveyon Bradley Jr., play football.

“It’s my son’s first year in high school, and he plays football and basketball,” he said. “It’s amazing to see his commitment to sports, and I love to see him play, to prosper with sports.”

Growing up, Bradley said his father never attended his sporting events. He was 27 when his dad first saw him play.

“It’s just cool to be there and fill the gap that my dad didn’t,” he said. “I’m able to give [my son] lessons my dad wasn’t able to give me. It’s been a tough year, and even through the hard moments, I’ve been able to be there for him and mentor him through that.”

On a scale from one to 10, Bradley says that family is a 12.

“It’s my priority, and everything I do is based around my family,” he said.

Bradley also has a 4-year-old daughter, Dalilah, with his wife Deborah. He describes his relationship with his wife as “a fairytale,” because he met Deborah at church.

“She came up to me, introduced herself and said she knew me,” he said. “She was friends with my sister, but we had never met. Our first date was ice cream with my son. She played catch with a football with him. I loved that she was really chill and had a tomboy personality. She’s so independent and loving. For work, she does homecare, taking care of the elderly. I know if anything were to happen to me, I can see her loving me into old age. … Her love for people let me know she’s someone I want to be with forever.”

Bradley sets time apart every month for what he calls a “date night” with each member of his family: his wife, his son and his daughter. The family has a movie night together every Monday, and they often eat dinner around the table together as a family.

“I want to make time for my family collectively and independently,” he said. “I want them to know individually that I care about them.”

The family also plans three vacations a year: together as a family, a couples vacation and individually. In December, they will travel on an extended family trip to Jamaica. Over the next 10 to 20 years, the family’s goal is to visit all 50 U.S. states.

When counting his blessings from this past year, Bradley also included his new job. He was hired in April as Sundog IT’s business developer, working on outside sales.

“A highlight of my year is my job change from a warehouse environment to working in an office,” he said. “I wear a suit and tie every day. No matter where I’m going, the park for a picnic or a birthday party, I have a suit on. I always dress for success and do my best to see that manifest.”

Katrina Milton

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.