A Chicago band honors former Oak Parker living with ALS

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By Ashley Lisenby

Digital Editor

Chicago band Nasty Snacks, with the help of a number of their friends, will put on a benefit concert for Young Faces of ALS at FitzGerald's in Berwyn this Friday, Nov. 28. The fundraiser honors Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate Sarah Coglianese, a friend of band member Ryan Gac. 

"I've known Sarah for about as long as I've known her brother Paul, about 10 years," Gac said. 

He and Paul, a former OPRF baseball player, went to University of Dayton together. The two played in bands during college and after moving back to Chicago. It was while jamming at the Coglianese home that Gac got to know Sarah, who now lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter. She was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in 2012 at the age of 33. The neurodegenerative disorder now forces her to use a wheelchair to get around, but it has not stopped her efforts to raise money for ALS research and sharing her voice through writing. 

"When I was first diagnosed with ALS, I could still walk. I was scared — very scared — by what I was learning about the disease, but it hadn't truly started affecting my life and my autonomy," she wrote in a Nov. 20 entry on her blog Speed4Sarah. 

But the disease gradually started to take a toll on her body.

"First my feet and legs continued to weaken until I gave up my cute shoes, gave up driving, gave up dates with my daughter and quick visits to see friends. And now my hands and arms are heading in that direction."

While she expressed in that particular blog post that she was feeling "low" after hearing that three close friends had recently died from the same disease, she ended the post on a reflective note.

"When faced with limitations we never thought we'd experience, or the premature deaths of people we thought would outlive us, maybe going beyond hope and fear is the best we can do."

Gac, co-founder of the newly formed funk band Nasty Snacks, is one of many who helped put the benefit concert together.

"This is Nasty Snacks' first benefit show," he said. "I volunteered to play once we decided to start planning the event to support Sarah and her efforts to raise awareness and funds for ALS research."

Gac said his girlfriend, Elyse Caringella, and Anna Biggins, the wife of FitzGerald's buyer Donnie Biggins, came up with the idea. Other bands on the lineup for the concert include Danny Chaimson & 11th Hour, Jared Rabin, and Wes Cichosz.

"I really feel like we are raising money for something that can seriously help others living with such a horrible disease," Gac said.

So far the band has raised more than their original goal of $5,000 through its campaign website built through the ALS Therapy Development Institute and Young Faces of ALS. Since exceeding their goal, the band has doubled its final fundraising aim to $10,000.

In addition to the online fundraising campaign and donations from concert ticket proceeds, there will also be a silent auction. 

"Sarah's dad, Joe Coglianese, is a Chicago Trolley driver," Gac said. He donated a couple of really great items, including one pair of VIP trolley passes for two as well as a three-hour trolley or double-deck bus tour for up to 32 people, valued at $600."

Other items up for auction include Chicago Blackhawks tickets donated from Haymarket Brewery, a signed book by Stephanie Izzard from the Chicago restaurant Girl and the Goat and a custom handmade acoustic guitar from Euphonious Guitars.

In the future, Gac said, he plans to learn more about Chicago-area ALS organizations to "help in any way."

Doors open at FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt Rd, at 6:30 p.m. this Friday. The concert starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20.

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