Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Inspirational Thanksgiving Story

I love stories about communities coming together to help others. My only wish is that the press would highlight these kinds of stories all year long, not just around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Obviously, this is also a very sad story, but I am moved by the generosity and kindness of friends, family, and strangers. And if you click on the story link, you'll see wonderfully loving comments by the readers of the Daily Herald.

One last Christmas for Arlington Heights family

By Steve Zalusky Daily Herald Staff
Daily Herald, November 24, 2008

It was the weekend before Thanksgiving, but all through the house, Mike and Kara Landeweer's friends gathered to celebrate Christmas.

A Christmas tree stood in the living room and decorations covered the front of their Arlington Heights home.

Even Santa Claus made an early visit Sunday.

For the Landeweers, Christmas couldn't arrive soon enough. In a bedroom, 37-year-old Kara lay in her bed, her eyes closed, oblivious to the celebration in the next room.

This is likely the last Christmas she will spend with her husband Mike, a Mount Prospect police officer, her daughter Alexis, 2, her son Ryan, 6, and her stepdaughter Katie, 17. A brain tumor will soon claim her life.

Thanks to Elke Kadzielawski, the wife of one of Mike's friends on the Mount Prospect police force, and the Landeweers' many friends, the family had one last Christmas together Sunday.
Carolers from Christian Life Church sang on the lawn, and when a siren sounded, the group began singing "Here Comes Santa Claus."

Santa Claus, Mount Prospect Police Officer Joe Morel, arrived, not by sleigh, but escorted by a Mount Prospect fire engine and patrol wagon.

He came bearing gifts from him and helpers, including a brand new bicycle and autographed pictures of Chicago Cubs players for Ryan and a Barbie doll for Alexis.

When Morel arrived, he handed Ryan a $20 bill - the money came from the tooth fairy, since Ryan had pulled out a tooth that day.

"Out of all the kids in the world this year, I decided I'm going to come to (your) house first," Morel told the children, adding "My elves have been hard at work."

It was a memorable afternoon for Katie, a senior at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, who plans on being a nurse.

"I'll definitely be here for the kids. I love them very much," she said.

Mike Landeweer is humbled by what his friends and colleagues have done for his family.

"As horrible as this situation is, I'm blessed to have these wonderful people helping me," he said. "It's truly amazing."

In March 2007, Mike, Kara and Ryan were sitting around the family dinner table, when Kara suffered a seizure and doctors later found a brain tumor.

"Basically, it was the worst case scenario," Mike said.The average life expectancy, Mike said, was around 11 months.

Kara went on to survive surgeries to remove additional tumors, radiation treatment and chemotherapy, and even the removal of a bone flap in her skull when she came down with an infection.

For most of this year, Mike said, life seemed relatively normal. But in August, she lost mobility on her right side and her health began to slide once more.

Eventually, it was found that the cancer had spread to the frontal lobe of the brain.

"At that point, there was just nothing left to do. That's when we decided to bring her home," he said.

She is receiving hospice care now.

"We are here not only to celebrate Christmas but to celebrate Kara's life. She is a very strong, loving wife, mother and friend. She has never given up on her faith.

Kara always put everyone before herself. So to be a part of today is just a true honor," Elke Kadzielawski said.

The police department and the entire village donated money, time and gifts to Sunday's Christmas celebration.

"Kara's a great girl. and it means the world to us that we were able to give them the opportunity to celebrate Christmas," said Elke's husband, Mount Prospect police officer Ron Kadzielawski.

"To see the smile on the kids' faces makes it all worthwhile."

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