Many people in Naperville and Woodridge had a tough year after the 2021 tornado, but no one has had a tougher recovery than Katie Wilson.
She was sleeping at her in-laws’ Woodridge home when the tornado approached. Seconds after her cell phone screamed a warning, a tree crashed through the roof and knocked her to the ground, severing nerves and an artery in her left arm, puncturing a lung, fracturing her neck, the collarbone and several ribs, causing multiple strokes and taking the life of her unborn son, Jordan, of whom she was seven months pregnant.
Her husband, Bryan, lifted the tree and called 911. First responders had to leave their vehicles a block away because of all the tree branches strewn across her street. She was taken to a local hospital and hours later airlifted to the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Wilson doesn’t remember any of this, however. Her memory didn’t really work until several weeks later, when she was in a rehab facility.
She has been home for about nine months, but her recovery is far from complete. She cannot walk independently, has double vision, and a condition called ataxia that affects her balance. She still doesn’t know how long it will take her to recover her abilities.
“They say everyone heals differently so they won’t give me a definitive timeline even though I ask every time I’m there,” she said. “I hate the answer, ‘It just takes time,’ but to see where I was when I was released in September to where I am now is remarkable.”
Wilson was working as a special education teacher’s aide, but she was unable to return to her job. Along with doing copious amounts of occupational therapy and physical therapy, she aims to complete her bachelor’s degree through online courses and figure out what she will do in the future.
“Mentally, she’s there,” Bryan Wilson said. “She became the person I knew again. Physically, there are a lot of limits but she is motivated. She trains on her own. Her coaches and therapists are a vital part of that, but most of the time it’s just her. She has that mindset to get up, move, and reinforce whatever she can.
The family’s story is not just a tragedy. After Wilson suffered his injuries, people contributed more than $140,000 to an online fundraiser to help with family expenses. Her neighbours, community members and even the mayor of Woodridge joined in, bringing food and gift cards as well as clothes and toys for their 5-year-old daughter, Ryen.
“They’ve just been incredibly supportive,” Wilson said. “We are so grateful to everyone who donated or asked if we needed help with anything.”