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Firefighters, friends, strangers all help Taylor
By Amy R. Mack | Daily Herald Staff

Kelley Layton and daughters Paige, 6, and Allie, 11, deliver a flier Wednesday to graphic designer Chris Krug at L & L Printers in Johnsburg.


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Published: 10/18/2007 12:13 AM | Updated: 10/18/2007 6:30 AM

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Almost 2,000 miles from Jeff Radtke's anxious watch over his daughter, his fellow firefighters want him to know they have his back.

So do friends, family, neighbors and complete strangers, all part of a heartwarming network that's given Jeff and Laurie Radtke of Johnsburg strength and comfort as they await word on surgery to save their daughter's life.

Although the brain tumor, a clivus meningioma, was initially considered inoperable by many doctors, the family will meet today with Arizona neurosurgeon Robert Spetzler, who has agreed to try.

Earlier Coverage
Taylor Radtke
Seven-year-old Taylor Radtke, diagnosed with a rare tumor that threatens her vision and mobility, needs life-saving surgery that few doctors are willing to perform.
How you can help
DONATE - Donations for Taylor Radtke are being accepted at First Midwest Bank's Johnsburg branch, 3805 N. Johnsburg Road, and McHenry branch, 1308 N. Route 31. Funds raised will be put toward research, travel expenses and medical costs.
SEND A CARD - If you'd like to write the Radtkes a card, please send them courtesy of Amy Mack, Daily Herald, 385 Airport Road, Suite A, Elgin, IL 60123.

His offer is part of a cascade of calls, e-mails and offers that have come from Daily Herald readers who created a ripple effect as they reached out to friends and family across the country in an effort to help the Radtkes find a surgeon willing to tackle the risky surgery.

Even as she worries about what he'll tell the family today, Laurie Radtke has expressed wonder at the response to their plight.

An Elgin man is working to help ease the hotel costs for a few days. A Crystal Lake family is offering the use of their Arizona home for a few weeks. Others want to donate money.

That financial assistance is essential, said family friend Chrissy Bigos of Spring Grove, who notes bills like Wednesday's $400 one-week car rental will quickly put the family in dire financial straits. And sometimes there are complicating issues -- like the offer of a home and car to use is incredibly generous, but the home is too far from the hospital.

In addition, the family has hesitated to accept offers because they don't wish to appear like they're taking advantage of the situation -- especially knowing others have needs, too.

"We're really uncomfortable," Laurie said.

"This is a point where I'm helpless, and I don't like that feeling," Jeff said.

But the need is there, said Bigos, who opened the special bank account at First Midwest Bank's Johnsburg and McHenry branches.

"They have an immediate need for funds," Bigos said, noting the cost of feeding a family of four when on the road quickly adds up.

"We also want to be able to support them for immediate needs, but we also need to consider there will be long-term needs," Bigos said. "We feel strongly Taylor deserves the best treatment she can get. They're trying to save her life, and we want to help."

Thus far, the bank account Bigos set up has received about $400 in donations. Friends from Johnsburg and Lake Zurich firefighters are working to set up fundraisers to raise more.

Friends are having fliers printed, and firefighters will meet Friday to talk about fundraising options, for they know the financial need will grow.

The Lake Zurich fire crew stepped up after seeing Jeff continue to come in to pull his 12-hour shifts amid the growing medical crisis as the family first learned how massive the brain tumor and how critical Taylor's situation.

"The guys came to me and said if he needs time off, we'll cover for him," Lake Zurich Fire Chief Terry Mastandrea said. "Jeff is very humble and very proud, and it's hard for him to accept things or go out and ask for things. But he said that would really help."

His fellow captains are putting in extra time for the next two weeks to make sure Jeff can be with his family. They're also reaching out to other departments to see what they can do to help a fellow firefighter.

"He needs to take care of his home and family right now," Mastandrea said.

The offers have meant much, Jeff Radtke said.

"They're just a great bunch of guys. I would never have fathomed I had that kind of support. It's very reassuring.

"From where we're sitting right now, the overpowering outpouring of the community and my co-workers and everyone else to help us ... you can't help but give in and say thanks for everything and accept what they do," said Jeff, who far prefers being on the other end of things.

"I've read stories like this and you never guess you'd be in the middle," he said. "It touches me ... catches me in an emotional state. This is from strangers to people who live down the street. I don't know how to express our thanks."

He doesn't have to, his fire chief said. He just needs to take care of his family.

"We're here and we're there for them if they need anything," Mastandrea said. "Tell him, we've got his back."

How to donate

• Donations for Taylor Radtke are being accepted at First Midwest Bank's Johnsburg branch, 3805 N. Johnsburg Road, and McHenry branch, 1308 N. Route 31, as well as all First Midwest Bank branches. Make the donation to "The Taylor Radtke fund." The money will assist the family with travel expenses and medical costs.