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Evergreen Park teacher saves life of student who was choking

  • Written by Claudia Parker

 

By Claudia Parker

Kristin Bilas is being called a hero for saving the life of a third-grade student at Northeast Elementary School in Evergreen Park who was choking during lunch.

“I was talking to my friends, one of them said something funny right when I ate a potato chip. I laughed and that’s when it got stuck,” said Anthony Gonzalez, 9.

Bilas is a fourth-year Speech and Language pathologist at Northeast School. She also serves as the school’s student council director and lunch room supervisor.

“On a typical day in the cafeteria, I’m chatting with students while helping them peel lids off their yogurt or opening up a juice box,” said Bilas. “On Thursday, Jan. 14, a typical day wasn’t so typical. I saw Anthony stand abruptly. The international sign for choking is this.” She put her hands to her throat.

“I’m not even sure if he realized that’s what he was doing because at that point he was losing color and his eyes were watery,” recalls Bilas. Reflecting back, she began to tear up. “I ran towards him. It felt like in slow motion, ‘Are you joking,’ I asked? I performed the Heimlich maneuver.”

The Heimlich maneuver is administered when a person cannot breathe, speak or cough. Gripping above the waist but below the ribs, with one thumb held inward, the other hand gives quick in and upward thrusts until the item is dislodged.

Bilas said it took four thrusts before Anthony was breathing again. “It felt like a long time without air,” said Anthony. “It was really scary.”

“Scared” was the look on some of the student’s faces as they observed. “Several of the girls nearby cheered once he started breathing but some of the guys stared in shock,” said Bilas. “When he breathed, we collapsed into a hug of relief.” Tears slipped off her cheeks. “I’m the mother of a third-grader myself.”

Two weekends each month, Bilas also works at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey where she helps recovering stroke patients relearn to swallow. The hospital mandates that all employees are certified in the Heimlich and CPR. “I’ve practiced on hundreds of manikins but never in a real life situation.” Bilas said, “The same muscle that helps you speak, helps you swallow. Sometime we take for granted how complicated that process can be.”

Anthony said he realized he was in trouble and tried to help himself by taking a drink of milk. “I kept trying to drink the milk but it wasn’t working. It wouldn’t go down.” Anthony said, “I looked around to see who could help me. I was trying to tap my friend next to me, he raised his hand to try to find someone. When I saw Mrs. Bilas, I knew she’d be able to help me.”

Anthony serves as the third grade student council representative.

Fabian and Ashley Gonzalez are Anthony’s parents. He’s the middle of their three children: Christian’s a seventh grader at Central Middle School and Mia’s in first grade at NE with Anthony. “I feel like I get calls from the nurse daily,” said Ashley Gonzalez. “Mia’s always bumping into something. She and the nurse are like BFF’s. When I heard the voicemail I thought it’d be about her.”

Ashley Gonzalez went on to say this isn’t the first time Anthony has choked; it’s happened once before at home. “We were having dinner one evening. I thought he was goofing around. I hit him on the back saying, ‘stop joking like that,’ but it wasn’t a joke. Once I hit him, food popped out and tears fell from his eyes,” said Ashley Gonzalez. “I was like, oh my God, I was terrified. You know, sometimes life moves fast and our mornings can be a little hectic. I don’t even remember what I said to him that Thursday. Things like this make me want to just slow down…hold my kids a little longer and a little tighter.”

To show their appreciation, Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez showered Bilas with gifts: Fannie Mae chocolate, gift cards for dinner and a movie, and flowers. “I hand-picked the candy in that box,” Anthony said. “Me and Mrs. Bilas are going to be really good friends.”  

Northeast Principal Jackie Janicke was in an administrative meeting outside the building when the incident occurred. Anthony explained his account of her reaction. “I was in music class and Ms. Janicke ripped the door opened and grabbed me, giving me a big hug,” he said.

“Oh, I did,” asked a smiling Janicke? “I remember the hug. I guess I don’t realize how fast our doors swing open,” she said modestly. “I was just relieved he was OK. I got Mrs. Bilas flowers and

Park Lawn expands mission to provide 'Choice'

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The staff at Park Lawn wants to offer adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities a choice for more opportunities.

The grand opening and open house of Park Lawn’s “Discovering Choice” that took place Friday afternoon at the new facility at 4715 W. 135th St., Crestwood, drew a large crowd of guests and public officials. Discovering Choice has been created to allow the disabled to receive on-site job training that might result in working part-time or even full-time.

“Discovering Choice is appropriately named,” said Steve Manning, the new executive director at Park Lawn. “This will allow us to go in a different direction. It provides a choice for individuals to go out in the community. It is different than our day program in Oak Lawn.”

This is the third site for Park Lawn facilities in the southwest suburbs. The Park Lawn Administration Office is at 10833 S. Laporte Ave., and vocational services are offered at 5040 W. 111th St., in Oak Lawn.

But Manning mentioned that Discovering Choice is a pilot program that allows these individuals to receive training outside the Park Lawn facilities in Oak Lawn. These individuals will take part in the two-year pilot program at the Crestwood center. They will be given an opportunity to choose a job they would like to work at.

Becky Rush, program manager at the Park Lawn Discovering Choice, said that the individuals will receive a variety of training and will take part in other activities.

“On some days our participants will work and other days they may take part in some recreational activities,” said Rush, who has been affiliated with Park Lawn for about 10 years. “They may work two or three days during the week. This is a community-based effort and we get a lot of help from volunteers.”

Kelly Ewing, the other manager, said the program has been a plus. “This is a great place,” she said.

Rush and Ewing will have five other staff workers to assist them. The participants will be working with a smaller group than the usual larger staff in Oak Lawn. Rush and Ewing said the participants will learn to adapt to working with smaller staffs that will allow more time to teach and train.

Before the ribbon-cutting took place, Manning said that the new facility features modern amenities that include computer technology.

“The space here is absolutely beautiful,” said Manning. “But I would like nothing more than to see few people here. Because that means the participants are out learning and working.”

Discovering Choice has been in existence well over two months. Renovations at the Crestwood building began last spring. Manning said the pilot program is able to sustain itself through the assistance of local businesses who have worked as partners.

With the budget impasse continuing in Springfield, Park Lawn has received a large boost from the Coleman Foundation, which has provided the majority of the funding for the pilot program. The Coleman Foundation is an independent grant organization established in Illinois in 1951. Manning thanked Crestwood Mayor Lou Presta for his support in welcoming the new facility, and Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury.

“I think this is great day,” said Bury, who was looking over information about the new program. “This is an exemplary day for Park Lawn, which does so much for the community. What people have to realize is that what has been done 50 years ago is so much different than what is done 50 years later. This allows (Park Lawn) to do more in the community.”

The Park Lawn Discovering Choice managers said that the ultimate goal is not to find part-time or full-time employment, although that would be an achievement. The greatest gift the program could establish is teaching problem-solving skills and providing the participants a sense of self-worth.

Park Lawn was created in 1955 and has given the developmentally and physically disabled an opportunity to provide services for local companies. Park Lawn initially worked exclusively with children and has since grown to include adult development training programs.

“The business partners they are working with deserve so much credit,” said Bury. “Park Lawn has such a great history.”

Man charged in 7-Eleven store robberies

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

 

Oak Lawn police seeking a man wanted in the Jan. 18 robbery of a 7-Eleven store at 10441 S. Cicero Ave., apprehended him the following day in the J.C. Miami Motel, 9041 S. Cicero Ave.

Kenneth M. Kroenert, 56, whose last known address was in the 3400 block of West 23rd Place, Alsip, was also charged in connection with two similar 7-Eleven robberies that occurred in Evergreen Park and Oak Forest on Jan. 19.

He remained in Cook County Jail this week on $450,000 bond, facing three charges of felony aggravated robbery, in addition to a parole violation.

In bond court last Thursday, bond was set at $150,000 for each of the three robberies.

His next court date is set for Monday, Feb. 1.

Division Chief Randy Palmer said in a statement that at approximately 7:16 p.m. Jan. 18, Oak Lawn police responded to a report of an aggravated robbery at the 7-Eleven on Cicero.

The clerk said a man in his 50s or 60s, wearing dark clothing, walked around inside the store before going to the counter and demanding cash from the register. The suspect implied he had a gun in his jacket, and after the clerk complied and handed over the money, he fled on foot.

At 2:55 p.m. on Jan 19, someone fitting the same description robbed a 7-Eleven store at 9860 S. Kedzie Ave., in Evergreen Park, and another one the same day at 4901 W. 167th St., Oak Forest.

Working with the description of the offender, Oak Lawn police said they came up with Kroenert’s name as a suspect, and witnesses picked out Kroenert from a photo array. According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, he had been paroled in October 2015 from Centralia Correctional Center, where he had been serving three 15-year concurrent sentences for aggravated robbery.

According to the Oak Lawn police statement, “an alert officer” while checking local motels observed Kroenert’s car parked in the Miami Motel lot on Jan. 19, and learned he was staying there. Officers and detectives then went to Kroenert’s room, where he was taken into custody without incident about 9:35 p.m.

Marist makes a lot of noise against Brother Rice

  • Written by Phil Arvia

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice sophomore Brendan Coughlan receives an earful of noise as he inbounds the ball in front of the Marist student section Tuesday night in a 66-45 loss to the RedHawks.

By Phil Arvia

Correspondent

The last 28 times they’ve met on the basketball court, Marist and Brother Rice have 14 wins each. But as of Tuesday, that was a particularly meaningless stat for RedHawks seniors Chamar Hawkins and Kevin Lerma.

Hawkins scored 19 points and Lerma had 12 points and a game-high seven rebounds to lead Marist to a 66-45 win over the visitors in front of a crowd estimated at 1,300.

“When I go to college, even when I get grown, I can look back and say I beat Rice my senior year,” Lerma said. “I beat ‘em [three] times.’’

Hawkins smiled wide as he pondered three varsity wins and one on the sophomore level over the Crusaders.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I’ve never lost to Rice.”

The Crusaders (11-8), playing their fifth game in 12 days and losing their fourth in that stretch, were never closer than eight points after Marist (15-3) closed out the second quarter with a 9-2 run. Hawkins highlighted that burst with a rebound and coast-to-coast sprint for a dunk, a floater in the lane and a nifty look into the post to find former Brother Rice player Morgan Taylor (9 points) for a lay-in.

Maurice Commander added 14 points and David Daniels 10 for the balanced RedHawks, who 

went 26-of-47 (55 percent) from the floor for the evening.

“I’m really proud of our kids’ effort,” Marist coach Gene Nolan said. “We had seven turnovers for the night. We took care of the ball, we were efficient offensively.

“We got good looks and if we weren’t able to make those good looks, we got offensive rebounds.”

“That’s how we do it,” Hawkins said. “We have chemistry. We believe in what we do as teammates and brothers.”

The RedHawks were equally tough on the defensive end. Mike Shepski and Josh Niego, who entered the game averaging 15.3 and 14.8 points per game, respectively, were held to 11 and 7 on a combined 7-of-19 shooting. For the game, the Crusaders were 16-of-36 (44 percent) from the floor.

Offensively, we struggled, struggled, struggled — they guarded the heck out of Shepski and Niego, give them credit,” Rice coach Bobby Frasor said. “Defensively, we weren’t very good either.

“They out-hustled us, out-toughed us. When you let them get second-chance points and rebounds, it’s going to be a tough night.”

Trailing by 10 at the half, Rice opened the third with a bucket to get within eight, but Hawkins capped a 7-0 run with a three-pointer  while falling to the floor in front of the RedHawks Rowdies cheering section in what may have been the signature moment of the evening.

“I don’t think it was the game itself,” Hawkins said. “It was the support of the fans — that was the big advantage to this game.”

Gospel singer entertains at Advocate's King Day celebration

  • Written by Claudia Parker

 

 

 

 

 

 

The staff at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as Rev. Smokie Norful, the Grammy Award winning Gospel singer, performed Monday during the 24th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Taste Celebration.

     “Over the last 24 years, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Taste Celebration Committee has planned and executed a multicultural/spiritual celebration held in honor of the life and work of Dr. King,” said the Rev. Richard James, the ACMC staff chaplain.

   The committee consists of 10 members, eight Advocate employees and two honorary members whom are retired.

The annual celebration is held in honor of King, who was the driving force behind the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech before a massive group of civil rights marchers who gathered around the Lincoln memorial in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963. He was shot and killed by an assassin on the ledge of a Memphis hotel on April 4, 1968. He was 39 years old.

James said the first celebration back in 1995 had a modest 19 participants, but it’s progressively grown. The Robert N. Stein, M.D. Auditorium could have been mistaken for a sanctuary from all the handclaps and halleluiahs heard throughout Norful’s heartfelt and sometime humorous message. The 300- seat auditorium could not accommodate the crowd. People lined the walls and stood in doorframes poking their heads through.

   Ken Lukhard, president of Advocate Christ Medical Center, was moved by Norful. He clapped his hands to the tune of his music and nodded his head through his message.

   “Where I’m from, this is what they call church. I’m going to take a drive out to Bolingbrook to visit your church within a few weeks,” Lukhard told Norful after shaking his hand afterward. “That was excellent.”  

Norful garnered international success after three of his albums, “I Need You Now,” “Nothing Without You” and “Smokie Norful Live, “obtained number one status on the Billboard charts. His trophy case includes awards named, Steller, Dove, Soul Train, NAACP and a Grammy.

He has sold over two million albums worldwide and was Billboard’s Gospel Artist of the Year twice, in 2003 and 2004. Norful composes for himself and numerous other Gospel artists. He also a Senior Pastor of Victory Cathedral Worship Center in Bolingbrook.

     Lukhard’s sentiment was echoed from various others who patronized the event. John Poindexter, of Chicago and self-proclaimed musician, said he used to work with Norful years ago. “It was good seeing him, he did great. You know, I know Smokie personally. We used to serve together in music ministry at Greater Institutional, off of 78th and Indiana. He played piano and I played drums,” said Poindexter.

According to Poindexter, Norful has remained grounded. “I haven’t seen Smokie in over 15 years, but I spoke to him today and he remembered me. He was just as gracious and humble as he’s always been.”

   Each participant received a complimentary copy of Norful’s latest CD entitled, “Smokie Norful Forever Yours.” He said he wanted everyone to know he’d personally autographed each one. “It took hours,” he told James. “I signed over 300.”

   Maryann Valdez, of Tinley Park, said this was her first time she heard Smokie Norful. “My sister Vicky invited me. She’s on the committee. I had no idea what to expect. I was mesmerized. He’s a dynamic speaker, I thoroughly enjoyed him,” said Valdez.

     Vicky Tanulanond-James is the sister Valdez is referring to. She is also the spouse of Rev. Richard James. They act as co-chairs. He secures the speaker and she heads the Taste.

     “The Taste includes homemade ethnic dishes donated by hospital associates, including 16 local restaurants and vendors whom also make donations,” said James.

In total, James said more than 500 people circulate through the multicultural Taste. “We do this with the help of our committee and several volunteers within and beyond the hospital, with support from Media Services, Public Relations, Food and Nutrition, Public Safety, Environmental Services, Building Operations, and Communications.” Careful not to exclude anyone, James said, “We also get help from the Culture of Inclusion Committee, we focus on uniting our associates, physicians, volunteers, patients, and families in rejoicing in their own ethnicity and commonality.”

“This Dr. King celebration acts as a reminder of how far we’ve come and also, the work that still lay ahead,” added James.

Lukhard was forthcoming about what this event means to him.

“Dr. King’s legacy is one that is iconic and timeless. Each year I think it can’t get any better and then it does. Even in this bitter cold, people still came out. Look at this crowd,” he said staring into a full auditorium. “We celebrate diversity here at ACMC. We take initiative to educate on all faiths. It is our objective to deliver world class care on a foundation of faith.”