Brunker's back where he belongs

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton’s Brogan Brunker (24) was struck with Lemierre’s syndrome in August, a disease that forced doctors to re-start his heart./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Brogan Brunker paused once, twice, and a third time.

He removed his glasses, tried fighting back tears, then realized it was futile.

“Sorry,” Brunker said several seconds after regaining his composure. “This is tough.”

And how.

Back in August, Brunker appeared to be in the best shape of his young life.

Brunker, now a junior at Middleton High School, was playing AAU basketball. Brunker was preparing for a football season packed with promise and potential.

Then, Brunker was struck with Lemierre's syndrome, a disease that affects just 1-in-1,000,000 people and has a mortality rate between 4 and 12%.

Brunker almost fell into that category, suriving a procedure in which his heart had to be re-started and doctor’s gave him a 25% chance to live.

“He defeated death,” Middleton football coach Tim Simon said.




Brunker had a sensational sophomore season on the football field and was expected to be Middleton’s top receiver in 2016.

He was also a key contributor on a Cardinals’ basketball team that claimed MHS’ first Big Eight Conference title in 15 years.

As Brunker readied for both seasons last summer, he suffered a staph infection after spraining his right ankle. The infection became so severe that Brunker spent five days in the hospital in early-July after getting the ankle drained.

Brunker appeared fully recovered and on his way back to the gridiron when he began feeling rotten in mid-August.

“I was just sick, not feeling right,” Brunker said. “I went to Urgent Care like three times and they sent me home every time. They tested me for mono, tested me for strep, all negative.”

But things got progressively worse.

Brunker was throwing up repeatedly. His muscles ached. He felt like someone was jamming a knife into his side. And laying on a bed caused such severe discomfort that Brunker stayed in a chair for three straight days.

Finally, with a temperature of 104 degrees, Brunker went to the E.R. at American Family Children’s Hospital on Aug. 18. Needless to say, he was immediately admitted.

“They were like, ‘We need to get him upstairs immediately,’ ” Brunker recalled. “It was pretty scary.”

Brunker was severely dehydrated and they inserted 40 IV’s into him. He was also put on a breathing machine.

But the next morning, Brunker’s resting heart rate was 220, roughly three times the norm. The only thing doctors could do was reset Brunker’s heart, a procedure they gave a 25% chance of succeeding.

“Basically my heart was beating out of control and my body was killing itself,” Brunker said. “They told my parents it’s either this or he dies.”

Fortunately, the process worked.

But Brunker wasn’t out of the woods yet. Far from it.




Lemierre's syndrome leads to blood clots throughout a person’s veins and arteries. Brunker’s lung was blocked, which led to a build-up of fluid.

Doctors needed to put tubes in Brunker’s back to drain his lung. Today, Brunker calls that pain “indescribable.”

Brunker spent two weeks in the hospital fighting his way back to a level of normalcy. But Brunker knew this fight had several remaining rounds.

Brunker entered the hospital at 205 pounds. When he left, he was 158.

Brunker was tired. He was weak. And he had post-sepsis syndrome in which a survivor has feelings of fatigue not being well.

Brunker, a 3.7 student, stayed home the overwhelming majority of the first semester. But Middleton High School administrators had him work from home, then gave him a pass-fail grade, which didn’t affect his overall GPA.

“I just couldn’t function normally,” Brunker said. “It was just mental for me there.”




Brunker tried playing basketball at the start of the year. But after five minutes on the practice court, he was exhausted and decided to wait.

By the start of the second semester, Brunker felt good enough to begin taking classes again at MHS. And he slowly matriculated back towards the basketball court.

As Brunker debated what to do next, Middleton assistant coach Antonio Hoye challenged him. Brunker admits there were times he felt sorry for himself, but Hoye told Brunker that he needed to move forward.

“Basically Antonio was like, ‘It sucks now, but you’ve got to find out what you want to do in life,’ ” Brunker said. “He really challenged me and motivated me.”

Hoye knew Brunker needed some tough love, which he certainly provided.

“He was really struggling,” Hoye said. “For the most part, just kind of talked to him about life. And at the end of the day, having the opportunity to do what it is that you want to do. And it’s not going to be easy, but you’ve got to get up every single day and you’ve got to fight for it.”




Brunker has fought for it. And the results have been impressive.

The 6-foot-4 Brunker is back up to 195 pounds. He’s one of Middleton’s top interior players. And he’s given the Cardinals valuable minutes, averaging 5.1 points per game since his return on Jan. 12.

“We felt like Brogan was going to be our ‘X’ factor this year,” Middleton coach Kevin Bavery said. “So not having him was a big adjustment, especially inside defense, the extra rebounder. So getting him back has just been huge.

“You still don’t see the same musculature that you did at the start of the summer. But he’s getting closer … and it’s been great for us to get him back.”

Simon agreed.

“I think it's remarkable how he has battled back so quick and so well,” Simon said. “We often talk about things like perseverance, toughness, sacrifice, inner strength in football ... but those qualities take on a whole new meaning in the case Brogan was dealing with. He was fighting for his life and now is fighting to get back to his former self and a sense of normalcy.”

Brunker is thrilled to have his life far closer to that normalcy than is was six months ago.

Brunker is thankful his parents — Wade Brunker and Melissa LeGrand — were there for him throughout his ordeal. Brunker had a wealth of support from friends, teammates and coaches.

And Brunker believes that if he can conquer this challenge, he can handle anything else thrown his way.

“I learned that in a matter of one day, you can be gone,” Brunker said. “But I guess I was picked for a reason. God picks his hardest battles for his strongest people.”

Brunker is most certainly that.


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