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Columnist
On a cross-country ride of hope with a courageous little girl
By Jim Slusher | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 10/18/2007 12:13 AM

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It's far too early to tell whether the Radtke family of Johnsburg got their miracle. But without question, they got something special.

Just a week ago, Laurie Radtke fought through sobs to tell Daily Herald columnist Amy Mack the story of her 7-year-old daughter's spirited fight against a brain tumor so rare and difficult that they could not find a surgeon willing or able to risk treating it.

"We need a miracle," Radtke said.

Within hours after Mack introduced young Taylor and her laugh to Daily Herald readers, people and businesses from throughout the suburbs stepped in to help. None were miracle workers, but they could do something -- offer money, the use of a corporate jet, the names of elite doctors, subbing for Taylor's dad's shifts as a Lake Zurich firefighter, free exams and, if nothing else, prayers to other powers that might have skills in the miracle department.

Within days, Taylor -- whose sole previous complaint had been that she couldn't take her friends to heaven with her -- was taking Daily Herald readers along on a cross-country ride of hope. Through Mack's interviews with her parents and Daily Herald photographer Brian Hill's pictures and online videos, we've followed as Taylor and her family enjoy the thrill of a young lifetime -- realizing a life's wish to be with monkeys at the San Diego Zoo, getting up close and personal with tigers and being splashed by Shamu at Sea World. Today, we'll tag along on a more somber journey, the trip to see the doctor and the surgical team that will attempt to save her vision and her life.

"The hardest part right now is just knowing we're going back into the unknown, and we don't know what's going to happen," father Jeff Radtke said.

It has been a rewarding experience -- enabled by the Radtkes, the Make-a-Wish Foundation and countless others -- to watch as you've shared in and responded to Taylor's experience. It will be a difficult one to take you along as she goes through this "hardest part." Yet, there is another hard part still ahead.

That is knowing that there are too many other such stories out there to tell. So many more families sobbing alone into pillows at night, praying for a miracle that will save a hard-fighting little daughter or son -- or mother or father or aunt or uncle. So many deserving and innocent victims struggling against the injustice of random tragedy.

To tell every story threatens to cheapen them all, reduce them to a routine litany. But those we can tell -- those where personality, urgency, hardship or the simple possibility of something miraculous provide a distinctive thread -- can serve as more than isolated cases. Taylor Radtke's story is one of bitterness, joy, hope and fear. It is not hers alone. Any parent can identify with it; any parent in similar circumstances can cherish it all the more.

In that commonality, it represents more than just the brave battle of one little girl. It is the reflection of hundreds of brave battles being fought every day by people of all ages throughout the suburbs.

We have yet to learn whether Taylor's miracle can come true. We have seen that wishes do. We have seen how individuals, communities and companies step in when fellow human beings are in trouble.

Laurie Radtke frets over her inability to restore Taylor's vanishing childhood, but she noted the other day, "at least she has this."

Not a miracle perhaps; but something special for us all to share nonetheless.