Lemont High School students and staff members will team up this weekend to support Andrew Podczerwinski, a sophomore fighting to regain his mobility following a tragic accident that left him paralyzed last summer.
Podczerwinski, 16, was injured last June during a trip to a friend's cabin at Bass Lake in Bartlett, IL. The group was tubing and water-skiing on the lake when a severe storm quickly moved into the area. As they rushed to dock their boat and bring in the tubes, a gust of wind caused a tree to collapse on Podczerwinski and one of his friends.
"I don't remember a lot of what happened after the tree fell," Podczerwinski said. "All I know is that it went from being this great day to a storm that changed my whole life."
The tree landed on his friend's foot, causing only a minor fracture. For Podczerwinski, the consequences were far more severe. In addition to multiple broken ribs, he sustained two pelvic fractures and two collapsed lungs.
The most devastating injuries, however, were the fractures sustained to Podczerwinski's T-8 and T-9 vertebrae. The spinal cord injury left him unable to walk, or even feel anything from his belly button down.
Following the accident, Podczerwinski underwent surgery at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, IN, to have two steel rods and multiple screws placed in his spine. His doctors told his family that he would likely never walk again.
Just weeks later, he began a two-month stint at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where doctors discovered that his spinal cord was not completely severed. With new found hope and motivation, Podczerwinski began his long road back to mobility.
"I was a wrestler and have always been very strong, so my doctors are very hopeful about my prognosis and the possibility of walking again," Podczerwinski said. "I'm just trying to do my part by keeping a positive attitude and working hard when I'm in therapy. I'm determined to get better, and I know that I can."
Since the accident, Podczerwinski has seen an outpouring of support from his friends, family and the entire Lemont community. This Sunday, Lemont High School will join that effort by hosting the "Walk with Andrew" 5K.
The noncompetitive event will begin at 10 a.m. on the high school's football field, 800 Porter St. All proceeds will be given to the Podczerwinski family to use toward Andrew's recovery.
The idea for the 5K was born out of Lemont High School's Wellness Committee, which promotes health and wellness among staff members. As the committee was starting to plan its first big event earlier this year, they had the idea to turn it into a fundraiser to support Podczerwinski and his family.
"It started out as a small, low-key 5K—just something fun for the staff to do this spring," said guidance counselor Denise Dalton, chair of the Wellness Committee. "We started thinking about Andrew and just sort of loved the idea of turning it into a fundraiser, especially to support one of our own."
The 5K borrows its name from the Walk with Andrew organization, which was set up to raise money for Podczerwinski's recovery effort. Medical expenses are expected to be about $200,000, the family said.
The organization, together with Lemont's Hope and Friendship Foundation, hosted its first fundraiser March 16 in Willowbrook. The event attracted more than 1,000 people and raised several thousand dollars.
Dalton said the committee hopes to provide some much-needed support to the organization and—most importantly—Andrew.
"I've been at this school for a long time and one thing I can tell you is that this community always pulls together for people in need, so that's really what we wanted to do for Andrew," Dalton said. "This is a kid who's not sitting around and licking his wounds or feeling sorry for himself. He's the most positive person you'll ever meet and he's working so hard to get better, so I think we need to do everything we can to show that we're behind him every step of the way."
In addition to attending physical therapy several days a week at Next Steps in Willow Springs, Podczerwinski has also been working hard to regain some normalcy at school. Since returning in September, he has earned high honor roll accolades and was tabbed as one of the school's "Students of the Month" in October.
Podczerwinski said he owes his positive attitude to the relentless support of his family and friends.
"They give me a lot of motivation," he said. "I wouldn't be working nearly as hard if they weren't there to encourage me and support me when I'm having a hard time. I'm so grateful."
The Podczerwinski family has chronicled Andrew's journey on the organization's website. In a particularly poignant, yet uplifting post, Renata and Edward Podczerwinski shared their hopes for their son's future.
"We thank God that he spared Andrew’s life. We believe Andrew will walk again," they wrote. "When this happens we will take Andrew to Bass Lake, and find the exact spot in the field where he went down. He will lie there for a second, and then he'll get up on his own power and walk away to start a new life."
Walk with Andrew
When: 10 a.m. Sunday, April 28; walk-up registration begins at 9 a.m.
Where: Lemont High School football field, 800 Porter St.
Cost: $20 registration fee; forms available at www.lhs210.net
More details: For more information about Andrew Podczerwinski’s story and his recovery, visit www.walkwithandrew.com.
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