PITTSBURGH, Pa. – News broke Wednesday that Pine Richland boy’s basketball coach Jeff Ackermann’s son, Bryson, is being treated for a rare neurological disease at UPMC Children’s Hospital.
Bryson has been diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a rare and mysterious polio-like illness, which is currently affecting many children across the US. There have been 62 confirmed cases of AFM across 22 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bryson is one of three Pittsburgh area children being treated for the disease.
AFM affects the nervous system, specifically the area of the spinal cord called gray matter, and causes muscle weakness and paralysis in the arms and legs. Symptoms can be temporary or persist, and doctors have to determine why or who is most at risk.
A GoFundMe campaign, set up by a close family friend, has raised more than $25,000 in less than 24 hours. The money raised will help assist the Ackermann family with Bryson’s medical expenses.
Please go and help support Coach Ackermann and his family. https://t.co/CkcAHLlV9R
— Pine Richland Basketball (@PRRamsHoops) October 17, 2018
As expected, the news has the rocked the Pine-Richland community.
“I think we all found out around the same time the family found out,” said Pine-Richland athletic director Joshua Shoop. “It’s scary for all of them, for any of us with young kids. It’s terrifying to be honest.”
Shoop has been communicating with his basketball coach throughout the week and said this will not affect Ackermann’s coaching duties.
“He’s still our varsity basketball coach,” Shoop said. “This has all happened so quickly this week, I’m not sure there’s a whole of time for anybody to process things. We’re learning new things about Bryson every day.”
“His assistants, who are great, will have to help him here and there. Like the family, we’re just waiting to see what kind of support they need.”
The Pine-Richland football Twitter account shared the GoFundMe page Wednesday night, asking for help, and many Ram student-athletes took to social media to help raise awareness.
Sending lots of prayers Bryson’s and the Ackermenn family’s way 🙏🏻🙏🏻 https://t.co/5HibccJUO7
— Andrew Kristofic (@AKristofic21) October 17, 2018
The support from the Pine-Richland community has come as no surprise to Shoop.
“The Pine-Richland community, unfortunately, we’ve been faced with several crisis situations in the time I’ve been here,” Shoop said. “The community really rallies around whoever it may be. Obviously, our coaching staff is a close-knit group. 90 percent of coaches have families and kids of their own. So anytime there’s young children involved, I think that everybody can relate to it.”
Donations have poured in from other school districts as well. Among the listed donors include the Taylor Allderdice boy’s basketball team and the Montour High School social studies department.
In addition to his coaching duties, Ackermann teaches in the Chartier Valley school district. His wife, Jill, is an educator in the Bethel Park district, and the family currently lives in the South Fayette area.
“There’s a lot of communities that know this family,” Shoop said. “So there’s a lot of people—anytime somebody coaches—they reach a lot of different people. A lot of times people they really don’t even know that well. His family is spread out over several different communities.”
Pine-Richland football is scheduled to host Seneca Valley Friday at 7:30 p.m., but Shoop said he has not spoken with the school’s administration yet to determine if they will do anything special to highlight Bryson’s fight with AFM.
One thing is for sure, Shoop said, “There’s a lot of people out there who want to help.”