On Tuesday afternoon I got a quick lesson in how loving a teacher can be.
Interviewing Kate Werner about one of her fifth-grade students at Dieterich Elementary School made my eyes well up … and not just once.
The long-time — 17 years and counting — East Aurora School District teacher had a difficult time talking about Luke Drees-Segundo, who was attacked by TWO PIT BULLS on his way to school Friday morning and is now being treated at Loyola Medical Center for serious injuries that will require "a long road" to recovery, both physically and emotionally.
"It's been a rough day," Werner told me when I called to find out more about the online crowdfunding site she immediately set up on for Luke and his mother, Denise Drees, a waitress at Grandma's Table restaurant in Montgomery.
I believe Werner when she says "I care for every kid who comes through the doors" of the school. But Luke, she added, is "such a sweet caring soul," whose work ethic and positive attitude make him extra special. He's one of those kids, she noted, "you can count on" no matter what else is going on.
"The little guy loves school," Werner said. "Even if he doesn't always have the answer, he will step out of his comfort zone."
And it's that "can-do" attitude his teacher is counting on to help Luke recuperate from the vicious attack that ripped off one of his ears and left other deep gashes in his head, face and legs.
Despite being in considerable pain and "still traumatized by the attack ... that brave little boy still shines through" from that hospital bed, she said. "Even in the ambulance ride to the hospital, I heard he had not cried at all."
According to Aurora police, the attack took place at 9:50 Friday morning in the 1000 block of Jackson Street. His mother told me she'd given her son permission to stay home from school that day as he'd stayed up late the previous evening watching the Cubs playoff game. But he was so intent on going to class, Luke headed out anyway, even though he was running behind schedule.
Which didn't surprise those who know how much he loves school, says his mom and his teacher.
It's the 10-year-old's heart and soul that have made him a favorite with his classmates. "He's such a good friend to all the kids," Werner said. "Now it's time to pay it forward."
The entire fifth-grade at Dieterich, indeed the district itself, is rallying behind the young patient, who has already undergone rabies testing and two surgeries, including one to reattach his ear, she said. Videos, cards and books — Luke loves to read — were sent to the hospital. In addition to the YouCaring crowdfunding site Werner set up at https://www.youcaring.com/lukedreessegundo-982777.
Other possibilities to raise funds for the single mom and her family are also being explored, according to district officials.
Werner visited Luke twice since he was taken by ambulance to Loyola, including Friday evening before he underwent his first surgery; and she was already making plans to go again. But when I caught up with his mother on Tuesday evening soon after she started her shift at the restaurant, Drees told me Luke will likely be released from the hospital on Wednesday, returning again on Monday for additional surgery. A specialist will also be brought in to test for hearing loss in the damaged ear.
"He is doing much better," she said, adding that her son was able to get out of bed and play a game of Uno with his grandmother on Tuesday afternoon.
It's the support she has received from her employer, as well as from the school, Drees insists, that has helped her get through these last few days. And she's especially grateful for the "genuine love and caring" from a fifth-grade teacher who has kept in constant contact since this tragedy occurred.
"She is wonderful," said Luke's mom of Kate Werner. "What she has done .. it really is a blessing."