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posted: 4/12/2013 4:39 PM

St. Francis community rallies again behind injured student

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  • Alex Novak, right, of West Chicago, receives a visit from St. Francis varsity football coach Greg Purnell. St. Francis is holding a fundraiser for Alex on Saturday.

    Alex Novak, right, of West Chicago, receives a visit from St. Francis varsity football coach Greg Purnell. St. Francis is holding a fundraiser for Alex on Saturday.
    Daily Herald file photo


Every week, a group of St. Francis High School students delivers a home-cooked meal to the Novak family in West Chicago.

It's a simple gesture, perhaps, but a testament of the Wheaton school's ongoing support of Alex Novak, 15, who suffered severe brain injuries in an accident just a week before he was slated to start in the freshman football team's season opener.

During the holidays, students sang Christmas carols at his home, where a framed picture of the football team hangs, signed by the athletes who wore Alex's jersey number on their helmets for every game this past season.

And Saturday night, St. Francis will play host to a fundraising dinner to help the family defray daunting quality-of-life costs.

Teacher Kate Kowalski is organizing the dinner at the school with about 100 students, many of whom have never met Alex. Mass will begin at 4 p.m., followed by the pasta dinner at 5:30 p.m., and then the school's annual Jazz and Swing Nite. Roughly 50 students and parents also are contributing to a bake sale Saturday.

Kowalski says students have been brainstorming ideas since after Christmas break.

"He's part of our family, and someone that we wanted to reach out to," said Kowalski, who taught Alex's sister, Raquel. "Everybody got on board right away."

Meanwhile, St. Francis alum Mike Zierk is organizing a second pub crawl for Alex in downtown Wheaton in June.

Zierk also has collected donations through a Winfield crawl and a program he developed as coach of the seventh-grade girls basketball team at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Winfield, where Alex attended classes before heading to St. Francis. For seven games, parents and fans donated money, with some sponsoring layups or steals.

All together, Zierk said the efforts have raised about $4,000.

"It's going to be a really long, slow ordeal for the kid," Zierk said. "All I want to do is get the word out and get people to realize the kid needs help."

Alex was riding his bike Aug. 18 when a van struck him in the intersection of Donald Avenue and Prince Crossing Road. His sister and dad heard the head-on collision blocks from their home.

He would spend six weeks in a coma. Now, his mom, Donna, hopes her son can begin a trial treatment to manage his spasms. If the trial is successful, surgery will insert a pump under his skin for a drug to deposit into his spinal column. He uses a wheelchair and a tracheal tube that leaves him susceptible to infections.

Donna, a doctor of veterinary medicine, said her son also will begin in-home therapy through West Chicago Community High School's special education services. The goal is to use visual or text aides to help Alex communicate with a hand switch, she said.

The family hopes to purchase a van suited for wheelchairs. They currently have to use a transportation service or an ambulance for Alex's doctor appointments. A wheelchair-accessible van, Donna says, also would allow the family to plan trips to museums with Alex, who among his many passions, delivered annual presentations during DuPage Area Engineers Week.

In fact, Alex was so active in his community that a local chapter of the American Legion honored him with an award for his service and leadership as an eighth-grade student.

On Saturday, Donna will join her daughter who is traveling from college to attend the St. Francis dinner.

"We try to help others, and they in turn have helped us," Donna said. "We're very grateful for the support and prayers.

"It helps us survive day to day."

Donations can be made at or during the dinner at the school, 2130 W. Roosevelt Road. For more information, contact Kowalski at

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