In the Suburbs: An incredible benefit to honor victims of Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease
Just over 7 months ago, our school and the Fairfield Community lost a wonderful man, Michael Bologna, to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). To this day, we look at his picture on our school office bulletin board in disbelief that Michael is gone. He loved teaching and he had been a wonderful lawyer for many years before entering the teaching profession.
Until Michael received his diagnosis, I knew nothing at all about this disease, which is a “rare and fatal neurological disease,” according to the CJD Foundation. “It is the cause of 1/6,000-1/10,000 deaths in the United States every year and the mean duration of CJD from onset of symptoms until death is 4-6 months with the majority of patients passing within one year.”
Since our focus at school had been on Michael, we knew nothing of others in the Fairfield area who were victims of this horrible disease. But this past Saturday, after receiving a notice of a fundraiser for CJD from Michael’s wife, I decided to attend the event, which honored another CJD victim, Bob Vitanza, who died 11 years ago.
I learned at the event, which was held in the warehouse of the Fairfield Theater Company, that Bob was an avid music lover and this event has become an annual happening that has helped raise nearly $250,000 for the CJD Foundation. While I could only stay for the Fairfield School of Rock band, an amazing group of students with incredible vocal and instrumental talent, I learned that the rest of the evening would be a real foot stomping, knee slapping, hand clapping concert from two other great rock bands.
The first lead singer from the Fairfield School of Rock, was a tiny young woman, who knocked the socks right off the place when she started belting out her song. The packed house was right with this woman, clapping and cheering throughout the number. And the momentum just built from there. She went on to sing one of my favorites, “Say a Little Prayer for You” and then other phenomenal singers took over.
This event offered the best donation I could have ever made to such a worthy cause and I was really glad I went. Michael’s wife and, I assumed, friends and family were there, so I had a chance to say hello and chat briefly and, of course, represent our school. So the fundraiser was a feel-good event all the way around.
I remember during the months leading up to Michael’s diagnosis that he had problems walking and remembering. I empathized with his frustration on many of the drives home that I provided. On one afternoon, he shared how much he hoped that the diagnosis would be something like even a form of cancer, because at least it might be treatable.
His visits to doctors and specialists seemed endless and there just seemed to be no answers. According the CJD Foundation, that’s very common. The disease is “often characterized by a rapidly progressive dementia and is sometimes misdiagnosed as other diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.”
Once Michael knew his diagnosis, he faced the remainder of his life with dignity and his passing with equal dignity.
This fundraising event was an invaluable reminder that men like Michael Bologna and Bob Vitanza will be remembered for their courage and the funds being raised by the CJD organization should eventually lead researchers to a cure or at least a means to prolong the lives of victims.
I feel privileged that I attended this event and made a contribution.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.