Community, family helping Villa Park teacher on road to recovery
Elise Boni knows the path to her recovery will be long and difficult, with some uncertainties along the way, much like the Chicago Marathon she completed for the first time in October.
One thing is certain though: much like during her marathon run, Boni has an entire network of family, friends and co-workers supporting her as she recovers from a traumatic, debilitating brain injury.
Boni, a 26-year-old fifth-grade teacher at Villa Park's Ardmore Elementary School, suffered a seizure on the morning of Dec. 4 caused by a blood clot and bleeding in her brain.
After a hemicraniectomy, which removed a portion of her skull to relieve pressure from the swelling, Boni spent nearly a month in Northwestern's neuro-critical intensive care unit. Her mother, Barbara Boni, said Elise recently was transferred to an acute rehabilitation center where she has begun relearning how to walk, speak and regain daily functions.
After a month of inpatient therapy, Barbara Boni hopes her daughter will be released home to continue outpatient rehab.
"This is very difficult because she is not completely aware of the situation and where she's at in terms of her recovery," Barbara Boni said. "But she has always been a very independent and strong individual who sets goals, achieves them and then reaches higher."
The recovery time is especially difficult, Barbara Boni said, because her daughter will be having another surgery in March to replace the skull fragment, when she should be finalizing details related to her July 16 wedding to her fiance, Ryan Forner.
Dana Starr, Boni's best friend since childhood, said Boni looks better every time she visits her and she believes Boni will make great strides in 2016.
"She has so many things to look forward to in 2016, especially marrying her incredibly supportive and caring fiance Ryan," Starr said. "I can't wait to stand by her side on her big day and watch her walk down the aisle in her beautiful dress to meet him, and start the first day of the rest of their lives."
Barbara Boni said both Forner, also a teacher, and her daughter had been working additional part-time jobs with a local catering company to pay for the wedding and a down payment for a mortgage.
Forner did not respond to an interview request for this story, agreeing to let Barbara Boni speak for the entire family.
Barbara Boni said her daughter is not yet able to make a decision on whether the wedding will happen as scheduled.
In addition to the love and support at home, Boni has an entire school full of elementary students cheering her on at Ardmore Elementary in Villa Park, where she has taught for four years.
Ardmore Principal Michele Cummins said Boni has an impact in each of her students' days as soon as she greets them in the morning. Cummins said Boni also has instilled in them the same confidence to achieve goals that she exhibits.
"(Boni) teaches her students to have high expectations and to believe in themselves," Cummins said. "Each quarter, her students select their own goal, map out how they will reach it, and what things will help them stick to the goal."
Assistant Principal Jenny Wangerow has known Boni since Elise was a 17-year-old student at Willowbrook High School, just beginning to learn about a career in teaching. She said she immediately knew Boni would be "a natural."
"Elise embodies every characteristic of an amazing educator. She is passionate about teaching and helping her students achieve high levels of social and academic success," Wangerow said.
Molly Brennan, one of Boni's students said Boni has a special way about her. "She is kind, and when I don't understand something, she helps me figure it out," Molly said. "All teachers do that, but with Miss Boni, she never uses an annoying voice while helping me."
If you'd like to help, friends of Boni have created a "YouCaring" Web page to keep friends and family informed and collect donations to help pay Boni's growing medical expenses.
Starr said more than $20,000 was collected within the first 48 hours of activating the site.
"I was in tears," Starr said, "seeing the generosity of how people from all different parts of Elise's life have come together to raise over $20,000 within 48 hours, the sweet messages of encouragement, and the 2,400 shares that her page has gotten."