Highland Mayor Joe Michaelis and other members in the community came together to help make one local family’s Christmas just a bit merrier.
It all started in May, when Michaelis read a story about Ana Cantrell in the News Leader. Ana was hit by a CSX train while driving over an unmarked crossing on Farmlane Road, near Veterans Honor Parkway.
The accident broke her leg, pelvis, some ribs, sternum, clavicle, crushed her jaw, gave her two small breaks in her lower spine and a brain injury. Though he did not know the extent of her injuries at the time, Michaelis knew through his own personal experiences what Ana would soon be going through.
Next month will mark three years since Michaelis fell down the his basement stairs, breaking his neck and back. It was said that he might not walk again. But he could not accept living in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. Nearly three months, Michaelis walked into City Hall’s council chambers to a standing ovation.
Michaelis’s experience led him to try to help others who have to face the same grueling experience. In 2015, Michaelis created a scholarship for graduating Highland High School student who will pursue an education in physical therapy, occupational, speech therapy or sports medicine. He also tries to give words of encouragement to patients to reclaim their lives.
“I had to sit back and regroup and think how we can reach out to help Ana,” Micahelis said.
After reading the article, Micahelis learned Ana had no health insurance at the time of the accident. So he went to work with other members of the community.
“Though the city can’t necessarily jump in and pay the medical bills, there’s other things I felt I could do to get people together to show Ana and her mother, her brother and her step father, that we do care and we’re here for her,” Michaelis said.
Knowing how essential it was to Cantrell’s recovery process to have access to a recreation center, especially one with a pool, Michaelis worked with Parks and Recreation Director Mark Rosen to give the family a membership to the Korte Recreation Center.
“Although we receive numerous requests for donations, we typically give away day passes,” Rosen said. “However, with Ana’s situation and the severity of her injuries, I thought that providing her with an opportunity to use the Korte Rec Center as a vehicle to rehabilitate was something that was just the right thing to do.”
Michaelis, upon learning that the Cantrell family frequented the Lory Theater in Highland, spoke with the theater owners, Justin and Hillary McLaughlin, to match his personal pledge for a gift card to the theater.
Michaelis also spoke with Angela Kim, the director of Louis Latzer Memorial Public Library director, who provided the family with a library card for the next year.
Finally, knowing that chocolate was a favorite food of Ana’s Michaelis got her a gift certificate to The Chocolate Affair as his personal gift. All of the gifts were presented to the family at City Hall on Dec. 13.
An early present
Last month, Ana got an early holiday surprise.
A family friend learned one of Ana’s top wish list items was an adult tricycle. After contacting the family, the man, who wanted to remain anonymous, bought Ana the bike and delivered it to her house.
“We didn’t know how good she was going to do on it right away and as soon as she got on it she just took off riding and he stood there and watched her ride for a long time,” said Ana’s mother, Coral Cantrell-Romero.
As for how Ana is doing, she said she is doing well. Her therapy visits to HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital were reduced to three times a week, and speech visits are once a week.
Ana said another exciting development is that she recently started running again. She can run about 1/2 mile now and is working with personal trainers at the recreation center to get stronger.
The family does not have a fundraiser planned for the near future, but they are still accepting donations through First Mid-Illinois, located at 12616 Illinois 143 in Highland, and is selling T-shirts for $20. Anyone wishing to contribute to Ana’s recovery or the needs of the family can write a check to the Ana Cantrell Benefit Fund, or bring the donation to the bank, and the tellers will take care of it.
“We would like to thank everyone for all the support you have shown our family during this very difficult time. It’s truly amazing to see how the entire community has come together to be there for us,” Cantrell-Romero said. “We appreciate all the prayers and all the help we have received. Thank you so much.”