A road to recovery paved by faith

Vree family looks to God to right a world turned upside down

(From July 26, 2012)

In June 2011, everything Worth residents Dan and Barb Vree knew about their daughter, Katie, changed with a single phone call.

Katie Vree, 17 at the time and heading into her junior year at Chicago Christian High School in Palos Heights, was on a plane bound for Miami, where she was to board another flight to Guatemala. There,Vree was to be part of a mission trip with 30 of her classmates.

Ten minutes before the plane was about to land, however, Vree started to experience aching and then tingling in her shoulder, and the feeling eventually spread to her legs. When paramedics were called a second time about the matter they rushed Vree to Jackson Memorial Hospital on the University of Miami campus. Vree was at the hospital for two weeks while doctors ran tests to try to determine what was wrong. Whatever had stricken her had paralyzed her from the shoulders down. She couldn't move, couldn't even eat on her own.

Doctors originally believed Vree, a member of the Chicago Christian volleyball team, had suffered a spinal stroke brought on by a common virus that turned her immune system against her body. More than a year later, however, the Vrees are still uncertain what sparked the paralysis.

"We believe she has a form of transverse myelitis," said Barb Vree. "There are still certain markers they test for that don't exactly match up, but that is [the doctors'] best conclusion."

Transverse myelitis is caused by the inflammation of the spinal cord. The cause of 60 percent of all transverse myelitis cases remains unknown, while the other 40 percent may be associated with autoimmune disorders. Vree's condition is believed to have been caused by a virus that damaged her third, fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae.

Since that day last June, Vree, now 18, has slowly begun to regain feeling in nearly every part of her body. The right side of her body is starting to feel almost completely normal, and the feeling in the left side of her body is beginning to come back, albeit much slower than the right side, Barb said.Most importantly, Katie is finally pain-free.

"Our world completely stopped and turned upside down with that one phone call," Barb said."Our life is so different now."

When Katie returned home after her stay of more than five months at Chicago's Rehabilitation Institute, the Vrees chose to sell their home and move into a first floor condo so Katie could get around easier. The family has since purchased a new home - a one-level ranch - and is looking forward to moving into the residence they hope will make it easier for Katie to get around in her wheelchair.

"It is a big adjustment but a big opportunity for growth and recovery," Barb said.

Vree has been attending physical therapy three times a week, occupational therapy twice a week, and pool therapy twice a week.

Everyday, however, is not so rosy, Barb said. The Vrees have had their troubles adjusting to the new life; but when Barb and Dan start to question what the conclusion of this story is going to look like, they reflect on how far Katie has come.

"[Dan] always says, 'Look where she was a year ago and where she is now,'" Barb said. "She had a feeding tube and couldn't move at all."

"I'm not angry about what happened," Barb said. "Anger just gets you stuck. You have the choice to be bitter and angry but that just drives you farther from God. Thousands of people pray for Katie every day and we feel it. We really do."

Despite the changes to and challenges in their lives,one thing that has remained constant for the Vrees - their faith and reliance on God.

"Without Him, we wouldn't be able to take one step forward," Barb said. "He is with us. That is what we cling to."

The Vrees are a devout Christian family who are members of Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Oak Lawn. The church has helped the family financially with Katie's rehabilitation, and has given moral support. There are more than 2,000 messages on Katie's caringbridge.orgprofile, where Barb and Dan continue to tell Katie's story and document her recovery. People have been bringing the Vrees meals and cards, and have even offered to drive Katie to her therapy sessions.

"I have learned how important and critical it is to live day to day," Barb said. "I just ask Him for the strength to get through today. We are strengthened and provided for."

Katie, who has been homeschooled since stricken by her illness and has been getting tutored over the summer, is looking forward to the possibility of attending Chicago Christian two mornings a week beginning this fall. She is able to live her life as normally as possible with a little help from friends who take her swimming, to friends' houses for bonfires, and to do the things she did before her diagnosis, Barb said.

"I've learned in a bigger way that God knows my name," Barb said through tears. "He has a plan and a purpose for us. He is the 'great physician.'"

For more information about Katie Vree visit

Summer Classic

  • Written by Jason Maholy


COLOR carshow3 3colPalos Hills resident John O'Callaghan dries rainwater from his 1965 Chevy Malibu S3 during the Classic Car Event held in Palos Heights on July 18.

  One of the southwest suburbs’ most anticipated annual events took place last Thursday across the Calumet Sag Channel, just south of Worth.
  The 10th edition of the Palos Heights Classic Car Event was held in the city’s downtown business district along Harlem Avenue. Thousands of people — car owners, car-lovers, and other folks just looking for a good time — descended on the two-block stretch between 122nd and 124th streets on a sultry summer evening. Some showed off their wheels, while others were just there to see what they were showing off at the event that has a festival-like atmosphere. The Chicago Kingsnakes entertained the masses with a mix of bluesy rock tunes, while vendors sold snow cones, nachos, hot dogs and tamales.
  A passing rainstorm interrupted the show for just a few minutes, prompting car owners to scramble to cover their beloved vehicles with tarpaulins; but the sun returned and event proceeded shortly thereafter, the only reminder of the rain being owners drying beaded water from their well-waxed rides.
  Several residents from Reportland made the short jaunt to the Heights to participate in the show. John O’Callaghan of Palos Hills, below, brought his red 1965 Chevy Malibu S3, and George Johnson of Worth, right, traversed the Harlem Avenue bridge to display his blue 1953 Willys-Overland Jeepster. Jerry Horn of Oak Lawn, meanwhile, represented his hometown with a red 1957 Chevy Bel-Air that he bought three years ago, above right.


Palos Community Hospital recognized for commitment to lead testing, screening

From Palos Community Hospital

Palos Community Hospital was honored with a certificate of excellence for the continued commitment to lead testing and screening of children in suburban Cook County.

Childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children, yet approximately half a million U.S. children have bloodlead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter. This new reference level has been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as they review research that indicates children's

development can be permanently impacted at low blood-lead levels. A simple blood test can identify the children at risk for developmental delays.

By performing blood-lead level screenings and tests, hundreds of children have been identified with elevated levels throughout Cook County. The testing and reporting allows the Cook County Department of Public Health to provide environmental home inspections and nursing case management services to those young children who are affected by lead poisoning.

About the hospital

Palos Community Hospital's ongoing mission is to provide the highest quality health care available. By combining the medical expertise of highly skilled physicians and nurses with state-of-the-art technology and a comprehensive approach to treatment, Palos is committed to delivering worldclass medicine in a compassionate and caring environment.

Palos Community Hospital is a 436-bed non-profit health care facility located in Palos Heights. As one of the area's leading hospitals, we have been serving the communities of the Southwest suburbs for 40 years. Our more than 490-affiliate physicians represent more than 40 specialties and subspecialties.

Rocketing into NHS

Shepard High School in Palos Heights has inducted a new group of students into its chapter of National Honor Society. The inductees are Haya Alalfi, Briona Allen, Christopher Bailey, Dania Ballout, Lindsie Bliss, Stephanie Brand, Rebecca Bruesch, Ashley Buksa, Lajaniece Burnett, Tristan Busch, Sabina Choragwicki, Patricia Clohessy, Collin Crowl, Bridget Curry, Desiree Davis, Alondra Delfin, Madeline Dziedzic, Jacqueline Evans, Dan Ewers, Jenifer Fitzgerald, Corey Galvin, Krystal Goldschmidt, Nicholas Heidinger, Samuel Hermanas, Brendan Hermann, Gladys Herrera, Alexandra Joiner, David Jones, Melissa Kelly, Kimberly Kosman, Amy Lagerstrom, Jordan Loman, Kaley Lorch, Ivan Maga

Gym coming to Hickory to offer cheer and martial arts

By Jessie Molloy

A gym that offers cheerleading, gymnastics and martial arts classes plans to open next April in Hickory Hills.

The Hickory Hills City Council on Dec. 13 voted unanimously to approve a business license for Flying High Sports and Rec Center. The gym, which has a location in Countryside, will opening at 9911 S. 78th Ave. Flying High has outgrown its Countryside location and will be using the new facility to house an expanded competitive cheerleading program as well as youth birthday parties, owner Laura Meyer told the council.

The center offers gymnastics, cheerleading, dance and martial arts lessons, and hosts children's birthday parties. Meyer said the Hickory location is perfect for the facility's unusual space requirements.

Aldermen also voted unanimously to approve an ordinance creating the appointed position of city plan review officer, which will work with the city council's building committee.

Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley explained that the new officer will be a specialist who will review more technical and complex building plans for the city on a regular basis. The creation of the position is intended to save the city time and money by eliminating the need to hire private firms to review such plans.