Dominic Szymanski made a surprise return to his classmates at Hough Street School in Barrington Tuesday afternoon, almost two months after the 11-year-old survived being struck by a train in the village's downtown.
The unexpected reunion came during an all-school assembly for a student performance of "Romeo and Juliet," and a day after Dominic personally thanked the first-responders and good Samaritans who came to his rescue.
As students settled into their seats for the performance, Principal Lori Wilcox got their attention.
"We have a really, really special guest who is going to join us for the performance," she said, and then out came Dominic in an orange T-shirt, using crutches to walk.
He waited for the cheers to subside, then took a prepared speech from his pocket.
"I just want to say thank you for your thoughts and prayers and everything you gave me during my recovery," he told his classmates before settling into a chair reserved for him.
Dominic's mother, Gayle Szymanski, said returning to school is something her son has been impatient for during the past two months of physical therapy and being tutored at home.
"He's so excited to see his friends more than anything," she said.
He will return to Hough Street School on a limited basis until the end of the school year. In the fall, he'll be in sixth grade at Station Middle School.
Dominic lost his left foot in the March 15 accident and still walks with crutches. But he is scheduled to be fitted for a prosthetic Thursday, soon after which he'll no longer need crutches, Gayle Szymanski said.
And the change isn't expected to hamper Dominic at all in his later life. An athletic career was never one of his goals.
"Dominic is an artist," his mother said. "He loves to draw."
Wilcox, his principal, agreed.
"He's very artistic, very talented," she attested.
On Monday, Dominic's mother described the first horrifying hours and days after the accident, beginning with a call from her ex-husband and Dominic's father, Luke. She was told that her son had been hit by a train and had possibly severed a foot, but was still speaking.
That nightmarish beginning to St. Patrick's Day weekend went on to include four surgeries over two days before Dominic was upgraded to stable condition.
On Monday, the Barrington village board approved a proclamation honoring the professionals and private citizens who rushed to Dominic's aid after the accident and helped save his life.
Those recognized included Union Pacific employees Rich Gladowski and Jamie Hansen; local good Samaritans Lindy Thomas and Trevor James; Barrington police officers Garrett Oberkircher, Jeniffer Whitcher and Lori Allsteadt; and Barrington firefighter/paramedics Jim Goodwin, Chris Kelly, Kyle Racina and Lt. Eric Lee.
Dominic, who's usually exhibited good spirits, briefly broke down Monday night as his rescuers posed for photos with him.
"Thanks so much, you guys!" he told them.
Dominic has two twin siblings, Gabrielle and Max, 7, who helped their brother out by also appearing in the photos taken Monday night.
Gayle Szymanski said Gabrielle was particularly positive throughout Dominic's recovery, quickly comparing his need for a replacement foot to the prosthetic tail with which the dolphin in the 2011 movie "Dolphin Tale" has to be fitted.
Max, who shares a room with Dominic, especially missed him during the weeks he was in the hospital in March. He's very happy things are now returning to normal, Gayle Szymanski said.