Dunlap: Pine-Richland Basketball Coach Going Through Devastating Time

Jeff Ackermann's young son one of few afflicted with AFM

Colin Dunlap
October 18, 2018 - 1:36 pm

Ackermann Family


I know what all the beeps sound like in that ICU hospital room. 

I know the view and the sound of the helicopter landing on the roof upstairs. I know the sound of the kids crying and the eerie quiet at night. 

I know what the tubes look like, what the room smells like at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. 

I know what it's like to watch the mouth of a doctor move and say all these big words and you hollowly just shake your head acting as if you understand everything --- when in reality you're just trusting that they know exactly what they are talking about.  

In a way, I understand some of what Pine-Richland basketball coach Jeff Ackermann is going through right now. Probably most of it, actually. And I know this for sure: It sucks.

It's the worst thing he'll most likely ever go through. I also know this: This community will rally around him and help push his whole family forward. 

Ackermann's 6-year-old son, Bryson, was diagnosed with a very rare neurological disease earlier this week. It's similar to polio and called Acute Flaccid Myelitis, or AFM. It has been reported there are three children at Children's currently afflicted with the condition and just 38 confirmed cases nationwide this year. In short, not much is known about the illness other than it comes on quickly and can have debilitating physical impact. 

As some people reading this might know, my daughter is still undergoing cancer treatments for Leukemia, which she was found to have in November of 2016. She's 7 now and a regular visitor to Children's. Her life, our life, was turned on its side (and still is that way) the day the doctors told us our little 5-year-old had cancer. 

As some also reading this might also know, what seemed like a lifetime ago I worked at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And, as just about everyone does when they're starting out in the sportswriting field at a newspaper, they get dispatched to cover some high school sports. You get to know plenty of people. You get to know plenty of great people. I got to know Jeff Ackermann who, at the time, was the head coach at Moon Area High School. Here and there through the years I'd bump into Jeff, but I always watched from afar and marveled at how much he got out of his teams that seemed, at times, to be out-manned. Simply, the guy can coach his backside off.  

Knowing Jeff some (and going through what we are with my daughter) the news punched me in the face the other day when a mutual friend told me about it before it really trickled out and became widespread. It was devastating, to be honest. My heart sunk, my whole demeanor changed the other day because I know just how awful it is to be cruising along in life and then be felled by such a blow. 

I knew just how Ackermann had his life thrown for a 180 in the matter of minutes. 

In a few text exchanges with Ackermann over the past few days, one thing struck me the most. The coach wrote of his little boy, "Bryson is one tough dude" as he detailed some of the things he's going through and will face in the coming days. 

You find that out about kids when they are faced with such obstacles. I find that out about my sweet Darran girl each day and Ackermann will find that out about his beloved Bryson as this ordeal continues to shake out --- kids are tough. Kids have grit that you never imagined. Kids are resilient and will muster strength that you never thought they had. When you, as an adult, feel like you can't go on you'll look over and see your kid just smiling through it all. It's amazing. 

I can't wait for Ackermann in the future to be able to report Bryson kicked this whole AFM thing. That he trudged through it and persevered, no matter how dark the early days of the diagnosis seemed to be. And I can't wait to see how this community will continue to band together to help his family. 

As with just about any cause around here, it is in our being to come together and help out. It is simply what we do. As of just past noon on Thursday, $25,511 had been raised by a gofundme page for Bryson. The goal of $25,000 had been surpassed ... in just about 23 hours. 

That's love. 

That's Western Pa. 


Again, though, that's what we do when people need a pick me up. 

That's people coming together to help the family of a youngster who has been dealt an unable-to-understand hand out the blue. One that left them in the hospital with far more questions than answers. 

I know the feeling. I know all of it. It sucks beyond belief. 

But from it, all Jeff Ackermann and his family can do is press on. As they do it, they will find out just how special Pittsburgh is; just how strongly this place will rally around them. 

Bryson Ackermann's gofundmepage can be found here: https://www.gofundme.com/zbt459-raising-money-for-bryson

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