Crosswinds Jazz Band orchestrates fundraiser for woman with ALS
By Senitra Horbrook, Staff Writer
(Created: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 12:06 PM CST)
In the midst of a debilitating illness, Carrollton residents Brian and Nancy Bass are living by the motto “accepting reality, but expecting a miracle.”
The family’s life drastically changed four years ago when Nancy, 42, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), a terminal illness with no known cure. ALS is a neuromuscular disease that affects communication between the nerves and muscles. It eventually renders a patient unable to move.
“She was diagnosed with ALS in January of 2005,” Brian Bass said. “Mainly, her hands started cramping up and she stumbled as she walked. It was pretty mild starting out, but she started losing a lot of dexterity in her hands. It took about a year to get a real diagnosis of ALS. She was probably battling it for over a year before the diagnosis.”
Four years after that diagnosis, Nancy is immobile and spends her days on a recliner watching TV and listening to music. She communicates via a device called MyTobi, provided free of charge from a telecommunications program. The device has eye-tracking capabilities to allow her to send e-mails, do research or play games.
“At this point she is fully disabled,” Brian said. “She has no use of her arms or legs. Her speech is very much affected. Her breathing is affected. She’s got probably about 10 percent of lung capacity left.”
As a tribute to the family and a way to raise funds for medical expenses, Crosswinds, a local jazz band, is presenting a benefit concert Saturday. Bass, a trumpet player, is actually the leader of Crosswinds, but he had no idea members of the band were planning a concert for his family.
“My first thought was wow. Oh my gosh. I think I was speechless for a good couple minutes,” he said. “I was totally dumbfounded that the group would go to this extent to do something for us.”
Travis Bittner, one of the band’s founding members, pitched the idea to the band and coordinated the event.
“Brian helped start Crosswinds in 2000, and he has been so incredibly dedicated to the band for the last nine years, never missing a rehearsal, despite the difficulties at home with Nancy now immobile and two young children, Michael, who is now 13 and Carolyn who is 11,” Bittner said. “The band is like family. We want to help Brian and Nancy in any way we can. This is more than a fundraiser; it’s the best way for Crosswinds to express our love for this family.”
Like Brian, Nancy was overcome with emotion when she learned about the concert.
“She was overwhelmed, in tears, couldn’t help but smile for about an hour,” he said. “She thought about it for a minute and said this is an example of the love that the band has for her and towards myself. She kept saying it’s just awesome they would do something like this. She’s very appreciative.”
The admission charge of $15 will help pay for equipment such as wheelchairs, hospital beds, suction devices and formula for the feeding tube.
“This money is going toward medical and equipment costs for Nancy,” Brian said. “We do have insurance, but the durable medical equipment caps at $5,000. Last year alone, we had well over $20,000 in expenses.”
Nancy previously taught middle school level science and math at Carrollton Christian Academy and American Heritage Academy. Brian says nights are rough for his wife because she wakes up many times during the night and someone has to physically turn her. She had a feeding tube put in last October. When the disease started, she weighed between 140 and 160 pounds. Now she’s down to 75 pounds.
“She can still swallow, but it’s very laborious,” Brian said. “She gets very tired, very quickly.”
Nancy’s faith is a daily motivator.
“It has strengthened her faith in God, knowing that the doctors have nothing to offer as far as a cure,” Brian said. “She is relying on her faith to get through this particular stage. Her faith keeps her spirits lifted spiritually and emotionally. It helps her cope with the day-to-day routine.”
The concert will last about two hours and will include a performance from saxophonist and Pacific Coast Jazz recording artist Tom Braxton. Crosswinds will also be performing a special arrangement of “Blessed Assurance,” one of Nancy’s favorite hymns. Brian said the concert’s title “Always and Forever” is an example of God’s never-ending love.
“This is the biggest concert we’ve ever put on,” Brian said. “The entire band is really pumped about what we’re doing.”
If you go: The special benefit concert will take place at 7 p.m. Jan 31 at First United Methodist Church of Carrollton, 2201 E. Hebron Parkway. Admission is $15. Visit crosswindsjazz.com/benefit for information.