Hazleton, Pa. – Head women's basketball coach Pat Brogan doesn't look back at his journey with bitterness or regret. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Coach Brogan embraces every test sent his way, facing them with an infectious optimism, an attitude he's shared with countless people during a 30-year career as a coach, educator and advocate. Throughout all of it, basketball runs in his veins.
Pat Brogan fell in love with the game at a young age. He recalls being thrown into the fire as a 5'9", 130-pound freshman and despite being undersized and outmatched at an early age, he developed a passion for the game that would never leave him. He would go on to play collegiate basketball at Lafayette and Dickenson College and quickly rose through the coaching ranks after graduating with stints in Dublin, Ireland and Muhlenburg College in Allentown, Pa. Brogan would return to the school he attended for three years, Lafayette, as an assistant coach for the NCAA Division I program starting in 1994. It was there he found an even greater appreciation for the game under head coach Fran O'Hanlon. It was under O'Hanlon that Brogan learned a more cerebral style of basketball. "No plays. Just play the game and read the defense." stated Brogan.
Brogan would serve as an assistant at Lafayette for eight years, seeing the team earn multiple league titles and trips to the NCAA tournament in 1999, and 2000. But in 2001, Brogan's world would be turned upside down. Brogan, an avid runner, cyclist and swimmer, was training for a triathlon that year and on dark and rainy September 25th day, set out on his bike to the local YMCA for a morning swim. "I remember hearing a speeding car, feeling something on my shoulder and then went out." Brogan recalled. Coach Brogan was the victim of a hit and run.
The next thing he remembered was waking up on a hospital gurney, being consulted by a priest. He nearly died and when he came to, assumed he was paralyzed. When movement returned, he was relieved and made a swift recovery to get back to work just three days later. But the extent of the trauma was unbeknownst to Coach Brogan at the time and the accident would have lasting effects. Pat went on to finish the year at Lafayette and move on to Penn State University, working as a recruiter for the men's basketball team. With an office overlooking the football practice field, what could be better, but turnover in the coaching ranks in State College would make this one a quick stop on the Brogan journey. During that year since the accident, symptoms of a disorder called Dystonia began to manifest more and more frequently. Heavy travel as a recruiter and the stress of the head coach's firing amplified the effects and just three days after being let go by the university, Coach Brogan was diagnosed with the affliction.
Dystonia is a neurological disorder causing involuntary muscle contractions. It can affect isolated areas or the entire body resulting in abnormal twisting of parts of the body, distorting posture and causing repetitive movements. There is no cure.
Very little was known about the disorder. It was hard to diagnose and many cases in the past were likely mistaken for other ailments. Coach Brogan knew nothing about Dystonia and at that point, reached out to the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation in Chicago, IL. There, Brogan was able to learn about his affliction, seek out the best doctors and treatments and connect with a network of individuals suffering from the same disorder.
Coach Brogan's road to recovery would become the central story in the documentary film "Twisted", directed by Laural Chiten. Numerous medications left no relief for Brogan whose head was contorting to one side of his body amongst other symptoms, and he could not straighten it without great strain. As fate would have it, coverage from the film crew would help the coach get in line for an experimental brain surgery, a last-ditch effort amid the failed treatments. Brogan would undergo Deep Brain Stimulation, a technique up until that point reserved only for severe cases deemed genetic. DBS, is a procedure where implants are placed in the body, using electrical signals to the brain to disrupt the effects caused by Dystonia. Pat Brogan would become the first person suffering from Dystonia caused from a traumatic injury to receive the procedure.
Initially, Brogan remembers the procedure being a complete success, but the lingering effects of the surgery were masking the symptoms of Dystonia. Two weeks later, he was worse. It would take four years of fine-tuning the electrical signals to his brain to find relief, all while suffering from balance issues, frequent falls and stuttering.
Over the next 11 years, Coach Brogan would get back to coaching in the Hazleton area, mentoring youth basketball players and eventually work his way back to coaching at the high school level. Over that time, Brogan would undergo multiple surgeries to replace batteries in his body that stimulated his brain. While coaching at Crestwood High School in Mountain Top, Pa., Brogan would go in for his 10th battery replacement, but on this occasion, doctors identified an infection in the brain. The entire system would need to be removed, leaving the Dystonia to reclaim Brogan's freedom of movement. Six months later, the system was replaced but once again, infection took hold causing doctors to repeat the process. Brogan was forced to step away from coaching once more and it would take 20 months after his fourth open brain surgery to recover and re-program the electrical signals to his brain.
Coach Brogan would get back to strength and in the summer of 2018 he joined the staff at Penn State Hazleton as the head women's basketball coach. Having been through so much, Coach Brogan is eager to teach, and not just the game of basketball. Each practice begins with a "thought of the day". In a tight circle, players interact and discuss the topic. "It's a great way for people to discover the perceptions of others and realize different points of view," remarked Brogan. "I want our players to discover their dreams and goals, seeing new possibilities so they can go above and beyond what they think they are capable of."
Throughout it all, Pat has always remained optimistic and keeps looking forward. On the court, his greatest joy comes from watching the team progress throughout the season and his passion for the game is as strong as ever. "I love the process of getting players to grow and believe in each other," stated Brogan. "Basketball is such a fascinating game with so many different ways to play and so many different types of athletes. It's really a great feeling to watch a group learn the game together, enjoy the game and play it well." Now in his second season at the helm of the Hazleton women's basketball team, Brogan is poised to bring life lessons to the basketball court and the lessons from sport to enrich the lives of his players.
Off the court, Brogan continues to stay involved in research and awareness for the disorder that has shaped the latter part of his life. Over the course of a dozen years, Coach Brogan held annual events raising over 200,000 dollars for the foundation that supported him and to this day, Brogan speaks at various schools to raise awareness and serve as an advocate for those afflicted with Dystonia. With the help of the foundation and the immense support he received from his wife Cathy throughout his entire journey, Coach Brogan wouldn't change a thing.
To learn more about Dystonia and get involved, visit: https://dystonia-foundation.org/