Matthew Gangl, a 17 year old from Wisconsin was born with a lower leg deficiency that required amputation. But thanks to the compassionate care at two regional hospitals, Matthew has been able to play varsity basketball and baseball at his High School. The care he received led to Matthew’s father, Dave Gangl and his wife Tracy’s decision to give back.
At 10 months old, Matthew went his local Shriners Hospitals for Children to have his leg amputated. Matthew was a patient there for his first 12 years, being fitted for prosthetics.For insurance reasons, the Gangl family switched providers to Children’s Wisconsin, formerly known as Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, in Wauwatosa.
Matthew said the doctors at Children’s are really nice and try to give him the best prosthetics, so that he can be active without facing obstacles. He said it feels great being able to play sports and to be around kids with the same interests as him. Even when he has to go back to the hospital two or three times per year to get a new socket or adjustment, Matthew said, the staff has always been kind and tried to get him back on the basketball court as quickly as possible.
“Fifteen years ago, I decided, let’s do a fundraiser to donate some money back to the hospitals that have helped my son so much,” Dave said.
For 15 years, the fundraiser, called Gangl Fest, has been held the weekend of the NFL conference championship games, two weeks before the Super Bowl. However, this year’s, which was held before coronavirus social distancing went into effect, was the last until further notice.
“We felt that 15 years was just a good run,” Dave said. It takes up a lot of his time, his wife Tracy’s time and the volunteers’ time; and soon, Matthew will be going to college. “But this might not be the end. The event might come back, maybe in a year or two,” Dave said.
During the first year of Gangl Fest, 60 to 70 people came to Plaza Lanes, a bowling alley in Racine, Wisconsin. There it raised $1,500 to $2,000. The event grew and grew, until it needed to move to a bigger venue: The Lanes in Mount Pleasant. Even though the bowling alley has 36 lanes, the event still had to have two separate time slots to make sure everyone had time to bowl. One shift started at 11 a.m., the other at 2 p.m.
“At this year’s event, on Jan. 18-19, more than 400 bowlers raised $14,000 to $15,000, which has been typical for the last six or seven years,” Dave said. “Usually, between 200 and 300 raffle prizes are given out each year. The best part is seeing the overwhelming support from people who come out to bowl, and businesses which donate money and prizes.”
The event has drawn in local celebrities as well as retired NFL players in the past. Dave and Tracy even got married at the Gangl Fest 5 years ago. One of their close friends got ordained online and served as officiant.
“We’re making the best of a worse situation,” Dave said. “There are kids at these hospitals that will never have the great experiences my son has. It just makes me feel better knowing I’m doing whatever I can to help. It’s kind of like a thank-you for doing all the stuff that they do.”
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