Thursday, June 1, 2017

‘He taught us how to live’--eight years later, West Lawn teen still inspires others

By Joan Hadac
Editor and Publisher
Southwest Chicago Post

Eight years after a teenager from West Lawn lost his battle
Andrew Smialek in high school.
with cancer, the memory of his magnetic personality still brings smiles to the faces of his family and friends.

They also continue, in his name—Andrew Smialek--to bring smiles and hope to teenagers struggling with cancer and blood diseases.

Their main fundraiser, the eighth annual “Walk It Out For Andrew” (WIOFA) 5k walk, is set for Saturday, June 17 at West Lawn Park, 4233 W. 65th St. All are invited to the fun, family-focused event.

Check-in is at 10 a.m., and the walk starts at 10:30. It lasts 45-60 minutes, and then an upbeat celebration—including food, games, raffles and live music--runs until about 2 p.m.

Pre-registration is now closed, but all are welcome to simply show up to the event, pay a $30 registration fee and walk with others. For details, visit

“Andrew was a spark plug, the type of guy who always lightened the mood and brought joy to others, even through his [5 ½ year] battle with cancer,” said his friend, Dan Ciaglia. “When he walked into a room, you knew he was there—even if you didn’t see him right away.”

Ciaglia, today a marketing executive for Easterseals, grew up with Smialek in West Lawn, attending the same schools—St. Mary Star of the Sea and then St. Rita High School.

He serves on the board of the non-profit Walk It OutFor Andrew, which leads an annual effort to raise at least
$20,000 to fund the Teen Hematology and Oncology Support Group at Advocate Children’s Hospital, at both its Oak Lawn and Park Ridge campuses.

The support groups organize activities for patients, such as attending Chicago Blackhawks and White Sox games, downtown dinners and other fun outings. The outings “are essential in helping the teens regain a sense of normalcy and provide a fun, social and supportive escape from the harshness of treatment,” according to a WIOFA statement. As the sole sponsor of the groups, WIOFA covers all costs associated with the trips.

“These trips give kids a chance to step away from the hospital, to enjoy themselves and have their spirits lifted, to just be kids for a second,” Ciaglia said. “That’s what Andrew wanted--to just feel like what he was, a normal kid.”

About Andrew

Smialek was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2004, barely a month after graduating from St. Mary Star of the Sea School. By all accounts, he bravely fought the disease all through his years as an active student at St. Rita High School, finally succumbing in November 2009, while he was a freshman at DePaul University.

His family and friends say that he will always be remembered for his strength, courage and, above all, love for life. Smialek never let his struggles bring him down, his family and friends have said, and he consistently brought joy to all who knew him.

“That’s the type of person Andrew was,” Ciaglia added. “All through his fight with cancer—the remission, the return [of the disease], he never gave up. He lived life with a passion, like he was determined to make every day count, and he did. I think he lit a fire in everyone who knew him. He died, but before he did, he taught us how to live.

Andrew's friends--talented, dynamic and big-hearted--have produced videos in recent years about the "Walk It Out" effort. Here are a few of them:


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