The inspiring bond between a Palatine police sergeant and a courageous toddler
You couldn't blame Alexa Mang if she has a bad day now and again. After all, two open heart surgeries, five leg operations, and metal hardware in both thighs, one hip and one ankle can be a lot to deal with -- especially when it all comes before your third birthday.
Alexa was having one of those days a couple of weeks ago, as she struggled through a session with physical therapist Renee Gucciardi.
That's when Palatine police Sgt. Art Delgadillo happened to be driving past Alexa's home while patrolling his beat on the village's northeast side.
"She looked unhappy, so I pulled over," Delgadillo said. "I wanted to see if I could help. By her reaction, it was meant to be."
It was the first step in creating what's become a special bond between the 20-year veteran law enforcement officer and the courageous toddler, one that's inspired them both and everyone around them.
"She never walked as far or as fast until he stopped by," said Alexa's mom, Kim. "Him going out of his way to stop, seeing her smile and move like she does when he's here, there's nothing better."
Nothing in Alexa's young life has come easy. She was born with five heart defects, only one kidney and a 1-in-3-million lower leg deformity known as tibial hemimelia.
Her first doctor recommended amputation of both her legs, her mom says. An expert in Dallas thought he could save her legs but wanted to remove Alexa's right foot. Finally, a renowned orthopedic surgeon in Florida told Kim he thought he could save Alexa's legs.
"I wasn't taking no for an answer," Kim said. "I've got to give this kid a chance first."
Alexa's most recent surgery took place in April. She's been back home in Palatine since, working once a week with a therapist to learn to stand and walk on her own.
Plenty of challenges lie ahead. One of her lower legs is starting to bow unnaturally, and a foot is turning in awkwardly. Two or three more surgeries await.
"It's all kind of day by day," Kim said. "It's been an emotional ride, but she's going to get there."
Alexa Mang, 2, gives Palatine police Sgt. Art Delgadillo a high-five during a recent visit during one of her weekly therapy sessions. Alexa and Delgadillo have formed a tight bond since he first saw her struggling through a therapy session outside her home earlier this month and pulled over to help.
- Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer
'Love can heal'
That ride has shifted into high gear since the day Delgadillo pulled over.
Before then, pushing her tiny purple walker to the end of her driveway was a struggle. These days, Alexa's dragging the walker down to the end of the block and back, a trip of about 150 feet.
"I've never seen her more motivated," Kim said.
Delgadillo now makes it a point to stop by Alexa's home for her Monday morning physical therapy sessions. Last week, a couple of fellow officers joined him to cheer on Alexa.
This week, he brought a gift -- a stuffed "Paw Patrol" dog dressed in a police uniform. Dressed in a cape and a T-shirt reading "Hero," Alexa hugged the stuffed dog tightly between strolls down the sidewalk punctuated by high-fives with Delgadillo.
For his colleagues, seeing Delgadillo go out of his way to help Alexa comes as no surprise.
"He's all about community policing and being out with the people," police Cmdr. Bryce Baker told us. "He grew up in town, went to Palatine High School. This is his community."
We asked Delgadillo what exactly it is about him that's led to such a strong connection with Alexa. The uniform? The shiny badge? The flashing lights of his patrol vehicle?
"Love," he said. "People sense it when other people truly care about them. You can be in any bad situation and a little love can heal. We don't have enough of that."
You might not be able to personally inspire Alexa the way Sgt. Delgadillo has, but you can still help her get back on her feet.
Friends and supporters are holding an Oktoberfest fundraiser for Alexa at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, at Ascension Lutheran Church, 7429 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles. Tickets are $40 and include German food, live music, raffles and a beer (and cigar) garden.
For more information, call the church at (847) 647-9867 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can't make it to Niles? You also can pitch in through a GoFundMe online fundraiser set up to help pay Alexa's mounting medical bills. It's at www.gofundme.com/oktoberfest-for-alexa.
One more thing
While there's additional leg surgery and plenty of physical therapy ahead for Alexa, her mom said the child's heart and kidney issues are now in maintenance mode and she has high hopes for Alexa's long-term prognosis.
"One day she's going to go visit (Delgadillo) and she's going to walk into the police station on her own," she said.
Taking it to the House
A pair of suburban state's attorneys testified before the Illinois House Mental Health Committee earlier this week about the dangers of teen vaping.
Lake County State's Attorney Michael G. Nerheim and DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin joined Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul before the panel to tell lawmakers how flavored e-cigarettes are a major catalyst in getting teens hooked on nicotine and vaping.
"It was an honor to meet with Illinois state legislators on such an important issue," Nerheim said afterward. "Vaping is harming our teenagers and legislation needs to be enacted to curb this health epidemic."
Last month, Nerheim and a trio of Chicago law firms filed what they called a first-of-its-kind lawsuit in Lake County alleging Juul Labs intentionally pushed teens to become hooked on nicotine-aided e-cigarettes through the use of flavoring and deceptive social media marketing campaigns.
Juul, which controls about 75% of the e-cigarette market, has denied the accusation, insisting they've marketed their products only to adults as an alternative to traditional cigarettes.
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