Columbia student struck by falling building debris in Wicker Park faces ‘slow and tedious’ recovery, will miss graduation

Annie Shea Wheeler was walking home from the Blue Line when her attorneys says she was struck by concrete that came off of a building in the 1200 block of North Milwaukee Avenue.

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Annie Shea Wheeler remained hospitalized for about two weeks after she was struck by falling debris Apr. 6, 2022, in Wicker Park.

Annie Shea Wheeler was struck by falling debris Apr. 6, 2022, in Wicker Park. She is seen before (left) the injury and after her injury while recovering in the hospital (right).

Provided/Romanucci & Blandin, LLC

Annie Shea Wheeler was just weeks from graduating college when she was struck by pieces of concrete falling from a Wicker Park building, causing traumatic brain injuries and “completely uprooting” her life, she said Monday.

On April 6, the 22-year-old was walking home from the Division stop of the Blue Line — as she’d done almost every day — when the next thing she remembers, she was lying face down in the crosswalk in the 1200 block of North Milwaukee Avenue.

Wheeler learned later — after waking up in a bed at Stroger Hospital — that she had been struck in the head by concrete falling from a corner building and been rushed into “life saving surgery,” according to her lawyer, Bruno Marasso.

She suffered a skull fracture, brain bleeding and a spinal fluid leak, Marasso told reporters in a virtual press conference Monday.

Wheeler says it’s both scary and comforting she can’t remember the exact moment she was struck.

As it turns out, weeks before the incident, on March 21, the city Department of Buildings had instructed building owner Virgin Future Properties LLC to hire an engineer to repair the “crumbling facade” at 1227 N. Milwaukee Ave., but “that clearly had not been done,” Marasso claimed.

“What happened to Annie Wheeler is unthinkable, but more importantly it was entirely preventable,” he said

After almost two weeks in the hospital, Wheeler was expected to be released Monday evening.

Instead of preparing for her graduation ceremony at Columbia College, Wheeler will have to return home to Michigan.

Scaffolding surrounds the building at 1227 N Milwaukee where Annie Shea Wheeler was injured by falling debris on April 6th.

Scaffolding surrounds the building at 1227 N Milwaukee where Annie Shea Wheeler was injured by falling debris on April 6th.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

“It feels like my whole life just did a summersault and I had a lot going for me,” said Wheeler, who took part in the press conference from her hospital bed. “These past few weeks have been emotionally really taxing on top of the obvious physical pain. I am having to move home to Michigan … and that’s not ideal.

“I am being forced to leave my partner, I’m being forced to leave the best living situation I’ve ever known and a community and a family here that supports me, especially as a queer person,” Wheeler added.

Wheeler still has bruising on her face, a bloodshot eye and multiple staples running across her skull.

She knows she has a “slow and tedious” road to recovery ahead, as she will likely face sensory issues and mental health challenges.

“I don’t really know where to go from here,” Wheeler said.

Annie Shea Wheeler underwent life-saving surgery after suffering a traumatic brain injury.

Annie Shea Wheeler underwent life-saving surgery after suffering a traumatic brain injury.

Provided/Romanucci & Blandin, LLC

A spokesperson for the city said the facade of the building was repaired on April 7.

Wheeler’s lawyers filed a complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against the property owners and Chicago Scaffolding Inc. — which they claim failed to erect proper scaffolding or netting to catch falling debris.

The suit seeks more than $50,000 in damages from both the scaffolding company and Virgin Future Properties to cover medical bills and Wheeler’s lost wages due to her “permanent” injury.

The building owner and Chicago Scaffolding Inc. couldn’t be reached for comment.

“The thought of this happening to another one of my peers or another Chicagoan breaks my heart,” Wheeler said.

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