Community rallies around teen battling brain tumor

By Dan Russo

Witness Editor

DUBUQUE — Matt Bahl was celebrating a rite of passage when a serious seizure put him on a path he never expected to walk. The 2017 Wahlert Catholic High School graduate was at his home in Dubuque when the incident happened.

“It was actually during my graduation party on July 23,” recalled Bahl, who was 18 at the time.

A family friend who is a nurse was there to witness the seizure and urged him and his parents to seek further medical attention. A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test at Mercy Hospital in Dubuque revealed an obstruction in his brain. After five days of further testing at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, doctors identified it as a tumor. As a result, Bahl has had to put his plans to attend college at the University of Wisconsin on hold, at least for a semester, as he faces a life changing medical battle.

“It has been quite the journey,” reflected Bahl as he took a break from manning a made-to-order omelet station at a recent breakfast at his home parish of St. Columbkille. The event Sept. 17 was held to help his family raise funds to cover medical and other expenses.

Bahl, 19, is a graduate of St. Columbkille Elementary School, and his family has been an integral part of their parish and school communities for many years. In the days and weeks following his diagnosis, people have rallied around the young man, helping in any way they can.

“I’ve been blessed,” said Bahl. “The financial support has been amazing. The faith and the emotional support is the thing I’ve enjoyed most.”

Bahl and his father Jamie, a well-known local coach, are both active members of Knights of Columbus Council 15813, based at their parish, where they routinely work for charitable causes. On Sept. 2, they were the cause. The Knights turned one of their bi-annual cookouts into a fundraiser for the Bahls. The group set up in the parking lot of Sam’s Club in Dubuque serving food fresh off a grill from about 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to whoever came by. By the end of the day, over 600 people had shown up, according to organizers.

Until his graduation earlier this year, Bahl was a member of some of Wahlert’s athletic programs, including football,  trap shooting and track. He knew many of those who ate at the cookout from those activities or his connection to the Knights. New friends were also made as strangers arriving at the store inquired about the event. The cookout netted about $10,000, but the value of that fundraiser and all other efforts on the Bahl’s behalf goes far beyond dollars and cents.

“We’re doing well because of the support we’ve received,” said Jamie Bahl. “You can’t go anywhere without people coming up to you and saying they’re praying for you. That’s what we need right now.”

At the parish breakfast, Jamie and Matt Bahl joined family members and fellow Knights in serving about 350 people. As he flipped eggs, poured drinks or performed other tasks, Matt Bahl smiled frequently and chatted with guests.

At one point, Mike DeMoully, Iowa’s program director for the Knights, who oversees charitable efforts statewide for the organization, called Bahl to the front of the room with a microphone. After saying a quick thank you and enduring a joke from DeMoully about how the young man likes to “shoot the breeze with old guys” at the many Knights meetings he attends, Bahl was back to work making omelets.   

The breakfast raised about $5,000. The money from the two events will go, in part, toward the cost of paying for a doctor to provide a second opinion on Bahl’s condition. He is scheduled for surgery Nov. 7. During this procedure, doctors will aim to remove the tumor and will be able to determine through testing whether it is cancerous or not. The outcome of the surgery and test will determine the future course of Bahl’s treatment.

In the meantime, he and his family are relying on their faith and the love of the community.    

“It’s just an incredible journey,” said Matt Bahl. “Thank you to all those that are supporting us. I really hope people know it’s been effective.”


Cover photo: Matt Bahl (second from left) serves food at a breakfast benefit held for him recently. He is scheduled to have surgery for a brain tumor in November. (Photo by Dan Russo/The Witness)