Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Battling 4 the Bragiels Set for April 30; Big, Fun Fundraiser--Buy Your Tix Now!

By Joan Hadac
Editor and Publisher
Southwest Chicago Post

Months of planning and hard work by a sturdy band of supporters of Matt and Sara Bragiel,
a Clearing brother and sister battling cancer, will culminate in a big fundraiser later this month at St. Laurence High School.

Battling 4 the Bragiels is set for 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday, April 30 at the school, 77th and Central, Burbank. The event will essentially be a blow-out style party to celebrate the teens’ successes in their ongoing fight against cancer and raise funds to offset medical bills and other expenses. All are invited, organizers say.

Food and beverages will be available. Entertainment will include a live performance by Bad Medicine, a 1980s cover band.

Gambling that includes raffles and a roulette wheel will be part of the auction. Also, a silent auction will be held for a range of gift baskets, merchandise and services.

Pre-sale admission tickets are available for $30 for adults age 21 and up, $20 for those age 12-21 and $10 for children age 6-11. Children age 5 and younger will be admitted free of charge.

To purchase tickets or obtain more information, visit


The Bragiels and their struggle were profiled last year by the Southwest Chicago Post.

What the Clearing community did for the Bragiel family in 2015—which continues into 2016—is nothing short of amazing, according to Dwayne Bragiel, an ordinary man overwhelmed by the extraordinary kindness by friends, neighbors and even total strangers.

Tragedy struck the Bragiel family (Dwayne, his wife, Kathy, and their three children—Joe, Matt and Sara) early in 2015 when Matt—then a freshman at St. Laurence High School--was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

“Matthew has a long road ahead of him, as he will be in and out of the hospital for at least six to eight months, receiving one of the most aggressive chemotherapy treatments available,” read the grim news on a crowd funding website 11 months ago. “As you can understand, the medical costs that the family is incurring at this time are astronomical.

“Matt's mother, Kathy, is a hard working, loving mother who works as an administrator at St. Rene Elementary school to make ends meet,” the story read. “In a few short weeks, she will be losing her job, as St. Rene is closing its doors permanently. Matt's father, Dwayne, is a 20-plus year veteran of the Chicago Police Department who routinely works part-time and off-duty jobs to support his family.”

Clearing steps forward

As word spread, family, friends and neighbors in Clearing stepped forward to offer support: words, prayers, gifts, meals and more.

On a Tuesday evening last June, more than 100 men, women and children filled pews at St. Rene Goupil Church--all to pray for Matt Bragiel, a graduate of St. Rene School.

Before the prayer service, in the church narthex, Dwayne said that his initial reaction to Matt's diagnosis and struggle was to simply "close our doors and windows and fight this fight ourselves"--a stoic reaction common to the regular joes from the Southwest Side, a place where people meet adversity head on, shoulders squared, as they plow forward through life.

But as the clock counted down toward 7 p.m., the Bragiels learned that “ourselves” included a flood of people who walked into the church, some still in work clothes. St. Rene moms and dads, and boys and girls were there in force. The principal of St. Laurence High School, Jim Muting, was there to show that the Vikings stand with Matt--as they have so often through the years with their students and families. Others from the neighborhood, a few total strangers even, were there to pray in word, in song and in silence, all for Matt and the Bragiel family.

Dwayne acknowledged that he was overwhelmed by the kind-heartedness and generosity that has flowed forth in so many ways from so many different people.

"When something like this happens, you always think it's supposed to happen to someone else---and it happened to us," he said from the St. Rene pulpit. "At first, I was selfishly asking God, 'Why me?' But then I thought about it and thought, 'Why him?' I'm 49 years old. I've been around the block a few times. Matt didn't do anything to anyone to deserve what he's going through now."

He added his thanks to everyone "for all the meals, the well wishes, the prayers, the phone calls, the texts, and so much more."

Matt’s struggle in 2015 was long and hard.

His battle included five cycles of chemotherapy. After the fifth cycle, he contracted three infections at his port site. He started feeling ill and was getting worse and worse. He asked to be taken to the hospital, where he was immediately sent to the intensive care unit. The director of the pediatric ICU, who was getting off duty, told the family afterwards she wasn't sure if Matt would make it. After Matt's blood pressure and heartbeat kept dipping lower and lower, and his body struggled to stay alive, the doctors decided to put him in a medically induced coma. 

The coma lasted 12 days. 

"You don't know what it's like to watch your child being so still, not moving," Dwayne said. 
 Matt's stay in ICU lasted 28 days. When he finally came out of the coma, he had to learn how to walk again because his muscles atrophied. He went from a wheelchair, to a walker and finally back on his feet.

"This was probably the roughest part," Dwayne said.

Against the odds, Matt rallied. In recent months he has shown very encouraging signs of recovery. His hair is growing back, and according to his Dwayne, his son is “back to picking on his little sister, being a kid again and acting like himself." He is also goofing around with his older brother, Joseph, a sophomore in college.

Lightning strikes twice

But just as Matt was finishing his treatment, tragedy struck again.

Sara was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, just weeks after her graduation from Dore

She was looking forward to freshman year at Queen of Peace High School, where she had made the volleyball team.

So Sara started several cycles of chemotherapy treatments. She lost all her hair after the first cycle, and her dad, mom and aunt all shaved their heads in a show of solidarity. Her spirits are high, Dwayne said.

Through it all, Dwayne has been amazed by his Clearing neighbors, as well as co-workers and others.

"I have no idea how I would have gotten this far without them," he said several months ago. "Neighbors are making us meals, and then there are the phone calls and prayers. Everybody here is on point. They ask me how everything is going. They contact me through Facebook or they text me. They’re amazing."

"I thank God for two things,” said the man who once considered fighting the battle alone. “I thank God for my children's health coming back, and I thank God for all the people in our family's life."

Update on Matt

Last month, Dwayne posted on the Make a Difference for Matt support page on Facebook:

“After Matt recovered from his medically induced coma, he has rebounded pretty well. We were so excited to hear that he would not have to do any more chemotherapy. And as explained by his oncologist, ‘He's had enough.’

“Matt has a couple long term effects (one being selective amnesia regarding knowledge on how to clean his room); however, for the most part, he is doing well. He obtained his driver's license, applied for a job, returned to school and has joined the St. Laurence hockey team. The best part is, Matt is acting like a teenager again and his ability to make me laugh warms my heart. The downside is that Matt is now eating like a teenager, so if anyone has a truck with raw meat, feel free to dump it in his bedroom.

“As I post more frequently, I will share things that stick out in my memory of the last year. Today I recalled a night when Matt was sleeping in his room, and everyone else was out of the house. I started watching sad YouTube music videos and became very emotional. As I sat at my computer desk, sobbing with my face buried in my hands, I felt arms wrap me up from behind. It was Matt. All he said was, ‘Dad, were going to be okay.’”
“He's my inspiration.”

Update on Sara

Last month, Dwayne posted on the Sara’s Soldiers support page on Facebook, “Sara had
her PET scan last Friday and we received the results Monday. I am so happy to report that her scans were clear and she has been declared in remission! The doctor has told us that we have to watch her closely, but as of now she is clear of cancer. Medical bills be damned, Sara is healthy as of now. Sorry we didn't announce it immediately. We just wanted to bask in the glow of healthy children. As usual, thank you all for your support and prayers.”

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