BARRINGTON — The students of Hough Street School thought they were attending an all-school assembly Tuesday afternoon to watch a performance of “Romeo and Juliet” by the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.
But before the show began, Principal Lori Wilcox addressed the students, telling them they had a visitor. And with the help of crutches, fifth-grader Dominic Szymanski walked into the school for the first time in a while.
It’s been almost two months since 11-year-old Szymanski was struck by a Metra train in downtown Barrington. Instead of a story of tragedy, his is one of resilience.
Walking through the village March 15, Szymanski was struck by a 150-ton commuter train.
Police have told Barrington District 220 officials that the boy’s view was obstructed by another train he let pass before trying to cross the tracks, and was struck by a second train on the opposite track.
As a result, he lost his left foot and has since been recovering at home. He was receiving at-home tutoring but has done well enough to return to school on a part-time basis.
His unexpected visit to the school was arranged so he could thank his friends and classmates for support.
“I really miss all you guys and I’m really happy to be back,” Dominic said in a prepared message to his peers.
Wilcox said Tuesday was an important day for the school community.
“I guess it was a whole mix of emotions, but predominantly relief and gratitude that we were going to have this day,” she said. “We knew he was going to make a recovery and be up and mobile again, and he is.”
His parents, Luke and Gayle Szymanski, watched their son’s emotional return and said it was a positive day for the family.
“It’s a milestone of his recovery,” Gayle said as Dominic joined his classmates to watch the play.
Dominic was scheduled Thursday to be fitted for a prosthetic foot. He has been undergoing physical therapy since the incident. Gayle said due to his strength, he only did one day of three-hour-a-day therapy before switching to one hour.
Both parents said Dominic’s attitude has been great.
“We don’t really see much of a change,” Gayle said. “His spirits are up. He’s always been a positive child. He took everything in stride.”
The Szymanskis said the community had been a source of support, noting they had recently moved to Barrington from Buffalo Grove.
“We’re very blessed with this great community,” Luke said.
“There were constant deliveries to the hospital and to our home,” Gayle said. “Gifts and cards from people in the district, people outside of the district, people out of state, I mean it was just an amazing outpouring of support from many, many people. It was overwhelming really. Humbling.”
As far as they know, once Dominic has his prosthetic foot, he will be able to do everything he used to do before the accident, though his parents noted that he is more of an artist than an athlete, and the injury doesn’t prevent him from drawing cartoons.
His school surprise Tuesday was preceded by an event Monday night at the Barrington Village Hall, where the first responders and good Samaritans who immediately aided Dominic were honored.
Three members of the Barrington Fire Department – Chris Kelly, Eric Lee and Jim Goodwin – who were there the day of the accident also were at the school Tuesday to witness Dominic’s return.
“That’s fantastic,” Goodwin said of seeing Dominic walk into the school. “I mean, we’ve all been doing it awhile and we’ve never had that kind of outcome. He’s a pretty amazing kid.”
Barrington police officer Jennifer Whitcher was the first officer to arrive after the accident.
“We were expecting the worst possible outcome, so it was actually shocking that he was awake and talking to us when we arrived,” she said.
“God must have big plans for him ... It’s amazing to see him moving and up and going back to school and just being a kid.”