Beloved Villa Park teacher back in the classroom after brain injury
Six months ago doctors told Elise Boni that it could take years for her to relearn how to walk and talk after a devastating blood clot caused a traumatic seizure.
But her will to recover so she could help a bunch of fifth-graders finish what they started last year has been nothing short of a miracle, her doctors say.
Boni, a 26-year-old fifth-grade teacher at Villa Park's Ardmore Elementary School returned to her classroom on a part-time basis earlier this month. At Ardmore, teachers work in a loop system, meaning Boni was with her students during both their fourth- and fifth-grade years.
"All of the support from my friends and family helped a lot during my recovery," Boni said. "But more than anything, I was determined not to give up. I had to get back here to see my kids finish what we started before they go on to middle school."
Boni had a seizure on Dec. 4, which was caused by a blood clot and bleeding in her brain. After a portion of her skull was removed to relieve pressure from the swelling, Boni spent nearly a month in Northwestern's neuro-critical intensive care unit.
She left there at the end of December and entered an acute rehabilitation center, where she was expected to stay for at least a month.
"Within three weeks she was feeding herself, beginning to talk and she walked out of the building," said Elise's mother, Barb Boni. "She's coming back faster than medical staff ever expressed to us."
Elise recently had the portion of her skull replaced and is recuperating.
"I'm about 95 percent back to normal. The last 5 percent is word-finding and memory," she said. "We've told the students to let me struggle to find or remember the appropriate words. I think they're enjoying that a little."
Boni will finish out the year on a part-time schedule, working 8 a.m. to noon every day before handing things off to a substitute.
"The return has gone really well," she said, "Our social worker kind of prepared the kids to see me with my head shaved and wearing a head scarf and we talked to them about gentle hugging. But it's all gone great. Everyone has been so sweet."
After next week, Boni will focus on final details for her July 16 wedding to Ryan Forner, a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system. They'll be the first couple ever to be married on the field at Illinois State University's Hancock Stadium, near where Forner proposed.
She hopes to be able to return to her classroom, full-time, next school year. Her bosses do too.
"Elise is loved by everyone in the building and we're thrilled to have her back," said Ardmore Principal Michele Cummins. "Her kids have missed her."
Members of her Alpha Gamma Delta sorority created a YouCaring page to keep friends and family updated on her condition and give them an outlet to help pay her mounting medical bills. Boni, 26, was a member of the sorority when she attended Illinois State University.
And the Oakbrook Terrace Lions Club donated just more than $1,500 in proceeds from last Saturday's 28th annual pasta dinner.
"She's a great young lady," said Lions Treasurer Paul Zubinski. "And we're happy to help someone who contributes as much to the well-being of our children as she does."
Boni said the response from friends and strangers alike has been overwhelming.
"It's really incredible the amount of response that I got from everyone," she said, "So I just want to say, 'Thank you.'"