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Downers Grove

Downers Grove North finds inspiration in homecoming queen with Down syndrome

Anne Wagner gets a hug from her mom, Amy Wagner, during North High School's homecoming last month.
Anne Wagner gets a hug from her mom, Amy Wagner, during North High School's homecoming last month.

DOWNERS GROVE – A year ago, it would have been hard to imagine Anne Wagner accepting the homecoming queen crown in front of a cheering crowd.

“They all came to their feet,” Anne’s mom, Amy Wagner recalled, describing North High School’s homecoming Sept. 27. “It was beautiful, the fact that these kids all got on their feet and cheered. She loved it, she loved every second of it.”

Anne Wagner’s big moment came after missing more than a year-and-a-half of school beginning in February 2012 when she was diagnosed with leukemia.

Anne, who also has Down syndrome, spent that time in and out of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, enduring chemotherapy with the upbeat attitude that has endeared her to classmates.

“Every time you walked in [to the hospital] she smiled, she’d greet you with a hug,” said friend and classmate Mary Doro. “She loved the attention she was getting. She was comforting to us, which was amazing. You feel like you should be comforting her, but it was the other way around.”

But by October 2012, Wagner’s body was not keeping up with her spirits, and she developed a series of complications during the most intense portion of chemotherapy, including a blood clot and a staph infection on her side.

After coming home from the hospital, Anne began a long period of rebuilding strength, initially in a wheelchair, weak from months of being essentially bedridden. Through the whole process, the Wagner family was encouraged by Anne’s classmates at North.

“So many of these kids from North were amazing, constantly texting. They came to the hospital,” she said. “They come out of the goodness of their heart.”

When Anne returned to school this fall, Doro was thinking of who she would like to nominate for homecoming queen, and Anne came to mind.

“I couldn’t think of anyone better,” she said. “I made that Facebook page and tried to get other people to talk about it. I told a few friends and they told everyone. It really branched out from there. And we used other social media sites like Twitter.”

As word spread, more students at the school began to learn Anne’s story and draw inspiration from it, Doro said.

“Today in Spanish class we were talking about different types of heroes, and a girl in my class mentioned her name,” Doro said. “And two weeks ago not a lot of people knew about her story, and now she’s a hero to a lot of people at DGN.”

Anne has difficulty expressing herself verbally, but her friends and family said her personality and sense of humor show through.

“She’s funny and fun to hang out with,” Doro said. “She loves to make faces and poses.”

The 18-year-old is now on the less-intense maintenance cycle of chemotherapy. At home, she likes to do typical teenage things such as listening to Justin Bieber on her headphones.

“She’ll make up her own words to the songs,” Amy Wagner said. “The day after [homecoming] and since then, I hear her singing ‘I’m homecoming, I’m homecoming. I have friends.’

“And it’s beautiful.”

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