Caring in Coal City: Small town’s spirit of unity helps through health struggles of many residents

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COAL CITY, Ill. -- About an hour outside of Chicago sits a small town of 5,500 people. If you have heard of it, it's likely because wild tornados put them on the Illinois map.

Devastating tornados ripped apart the tiny community in 2013, not once, but twice. So residents did what they knew how to do, jumped in and helped each other start over and rebuild.

Now, they're helping each other again when threatening health, not threatening storms, seems to be bearing down on the town.

While the sicknesses are unrelated, Coal City feels it's almost too much for one town to take - almost.

Kent Bugg’s 14-year-old daughter Megan discovered an aggressive form of childhood cancer growing in her arm on Christmas Eve 2014. She was looking at Stage 4 cancer and 54 weeks of intense treatments.

"You realize very quickly, you can't get through this on your own,” Kent says.  “And when you are in this community you realize very quickly, you don't have to do it on your own."

Almost immediately, food arrived at their house, gas cards for their travels and neighbors flooded their home to wash their floors and even change their sheets in the Bugg family's darkest hour. There were fundraisers and encouraging signs around town cheering on Team Megan. The gifts from the heart never ended over that long and painful year. Looking back now with Megan in remission, the Buggs know what to do.

"I can never repay everybody for everything they did for our family,” he said. “The only way we can try to repay it is to pay it forward for somebody else."

And they are - to the Kramers, also of Coal City. Myla, was born with hundreds of holes in her tiny heart. For her parents, it has been all hands on deck since the day Myla was born.

Collectively Coal City helped feed the Kramers. They donated hotel rooms and gas when the Kramers would travel for medical treatments. They even raised $10,000.

20 surgeries later, including seven open heart surgeries, 4-year-old Myla is doing great. So it was finally time to say thank you to the small town with a very big heart.

"I put an add in the paper to thank everyone,” Myla’s mom Heather Kramer said.   “If I missed anyone, please know that your kindness has meant the world to us."

Perhaps the most notable family in town these days, doesn't even live in Coal City anymore. The McDonalds have moved to New York. Anias and Jadon McDonald were born conjoined twins and since then, constant acts of kindness were delivered to the McDonald home daily - meals, groceries, and so much more.

A recent December fundraiser for the twins brought in $17,000 in just one day.

All the money went to help Nicole and Christian McDonald stay afloat financially. That along with over $300,000 raised on a GoFundMe page allows them to chip away at their mounting bills as the boys work to get stronger.

"As we were swimming, it kept us afloat the whole way," Nicole says.

Jadon and Anias lived as one for 13 months until a grueling 26 hour surgery allowed doctors at Montefiore Medical Center in New York to separate the brothers in October of 2016.  The procedure made headlines worldwide, and the emotion of it all still felt in their home town of Coal City.

Nicole, so touched by the generosity, has asked that attention also be turned to a Coal City baby in need of a kidney transplant. So little Johnny Carver now getting financial help too. Because that, locals say, is what Coal City is really all about.

"It takes a village for sure and we just happened to get one with a huge heart," Nicole says.

As for a health update for the McDonald twins, Anias and Jadon are both out of the hospital in New York and continue to do rehab that is improving their lives every day. But coming home to Coal City is not a sure thing. It will all depend on the needs of the children down the road and their need to be near particular doctors.