Driving through Woodridge, visitors will 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 just 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, 2021, tornado sirens blared and Katie ran upstairs to get her 5-year-old daughter Ryen. A tree then 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 spent in hospitals, 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, and Katie 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 everything she’s done has exceeded everyone’s expectations. He recalled a time when Katie couldn’t lift her head off the pillow on her own, and said he now 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 Woodridge tornado survivors continue to face, there also are psychological side effects. Katie, for example, said recent tornado sirens have sent her and Brian into a panic, and they aren’t the only family facing these fears.
Joe and Valerie Tancredi, who also were survivors of the tornado, said they worry not just about their mental health, but about that of their youngest son, Jameson.
The Tancredi’s 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.”
In addition to the mental health trauma of the tornado, the Tancredis continue to face issues with their home. They still have not returned to the home. The family moved temporarily into the basement of Valerie’s parents’ house, which also suffered damage from the tornado, and they have yet to be able to leave.
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.”