Rocky Taglia is remembered by all who knew him as a friendly, outgoing young man, a sports fan and an enthusiastic athlete.
They remember him as not only a standout "around the world" basketball player, but as a terrific hockey player who went from stumbling head-first into the net just seconds after the puck on his first goal to slapping in 72 goals in 49 very competitive games.
Rocco Christopher Taglia, the son of Rocco and Linda Taglia, was a happy, athletic youngster just a month short of his 10th birthday when he suffered a seizure. A battery of tests revealed he had an anaplasic astrocytoma, a brain tumor.
Through three operations, rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and near constant stays in several hospitals, Rocky fought bravely without complaint. However, the battle failed to slow down the very aggressive disease.
On July 3, 1999, just a year and a day after his first operation, the young man passed away, leaving behind his loving parents and sisters, Amber and Krista.
"It was hard, very hard, on all of us," Rocco said. "But we've come to find out that if there was any kind of a reason for all of it, the foundation was it."
It was out of their pain that the Taglias began the Rock For Children Foundation, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to help fund research for new technology in the fight against pediatric brain tumors. It also provides support for its victims and their families and helps to raise public awareness of this devastating disease.
In addition to a golf outing, each fall the foundation sponsors a 5K run, which has drawn well. Participants not only come from the ranks of the Starved Rock Runners Club, but the event also brings out all of the Marquette High School fall and winter sports teams as well as those from other area high schools.
And each winter, it funds the "Angel Committee," which provides gifts for young patients hospitalized over the Christmas holidays and for their siblings. Because of its success and notoriety, the foundation has also responded to requests for help for victims of other forms of cancer.
"A youth group from Streator baked over 600 cookies for us to take last year for the kids to decorate," said Linda. "Things like that are so neat, because it's kids helping kids. É And it helps the kids to 'get it.' They've gone to the hospital with us and seen the kids with tumors, and they see that there are some pretty devastating things going on in other people's lives. It gives them perspective."
And the more tangible benefit it that over the years, the Taglias estimate the foundation has raised near $600,000 for its causes.
The main beneficiary of those funds has been the Midwest Children's Brain Tumor Center, a part of the Lutheran General Children's Hospital in Park Ridge that is led by Dr. John Ruge, the chief of pediatric neurosurgery, and his staff. Donations helped the center with the purchase of a $2 million intra-operative MRI machine, which helps facilitate the removal of more tumor during surgeries.
Unfortunately, it seems the demand for that machine and for help has increased dramatically. The MCBTC had 50 patients when Rocky was first treated there, but now has over 450. According to the National Brain Tumor Foundation, there were 41,000 new cases diagnosed in 2006 alone, making it the third-leading cause of cancer related death among young adults ages 20-39.
"It's kind of a mixed blessing," said Linda. "When Rocky had his first seizure, the doctors thought it was epilepsy because a brain tumor wasn't something you looked for right away. Since then, they've begun to look for the symptoms much earlier and now they're diagnosing almost quadruple the number of cases as back in 1999.
"We don't know if it means there are more tumors out there or they're just finding them earlier, but at least the kids are being treated much earlier that before. That gives doctors more time to combat it."
And it gives the families of those afflicted more time to create memories, like the ones the Taglias will always have of Rocky.
"At first, we did this for very selfish reasons," said Linda. "We wanted to give the girls something to hold on to, a constant to remember their brother by, but since then it has turned into so much more, something so much more rewarding than what it started out being.
"There will never be an answer good enough for why this happened, to justify what Rocky had to go through, but at least now we know that there's something there to show he didn't die in vain, something to provide help for other children and their families."
"It's all about the kids, that's it. It's why we do what we do," Rocco said. "It's for them, from Rocky."