Coach Galbreath is given another shot after stroke

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Published: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 12:01 AM EDT
Reprinted with permission by the Beaver County Times

Coach Ron Galbreath
After shooting a few hoops, Geneva women's basketball coach Ron Galbreath is helped back into his wheelchair by therapist Jeff Blakeley (left) and Galbreath's wife, Pat. (The Times/Lucy Schaly)
BLAWNOX - It was once the simplest of tasks for Ron Galbreath.

Yet as Galbreath stood about 8 feet from the basket, it was a struggle for him to put the basketball through the hoop.

Time after time he tried and the ball kept coming up short of the mark.

When the ball finally made its way through the hoop, Galbreath′s face broke into a broader grin.

This basket was as important to him as the many he sank during his outstanding run as a player at Wampum High School and his All-America career as a guard at Westminster College. It meant as much as any of the field goals his teams have made while compiling an amazing 633 victories in 36 seasons as a college coach of the men′s teams at Clarion and Westminster and now the women′s team at Geneva.

This basket was another milepost on his way to making a full recovery to a near-fatal stroke he suffered March 14 at his home in Patterson Township.

"I′m getting better every day," Galbreath said. "I′m feeling stronger every day, getting a little more back to normal."

Galbreath, 67, has come so far in his recovery that he was released Tuesday from HealthSouth Harmarville Rehabilitation Center, where he underwent three weeks of intensive occupational, physical and speech therapy.

While Galbreath is a little gaunt following the ordeal and walks with a somewhat slower gait, it is otherwise difficult to tell anything has happened to him. His mind and speech are clear, and he still has that boundless optimistic outlook that has helped him turn the Geneva women′s program from a doormat to one that has posted consecutive 20-win seasons.

"He still has more energy than anybody else I know," Galbreath′s wife, Pat, said with a smile recently as she watched her husband grow through various exercises during occupational and physical therapy. "I really believe that has played a big part in him recovering so quickly. He has made unbelievable strides in such a short period of time. It truly is amazing."

Galbreath was settling in to watch Pitt and Marquette play in the Big East Conference tournament semifinals on his brand-new television on the night of March 14 when things started to go blurry on him.

"I hadn′t felt right that day," Galbreath said. "I had talked to a few of my players on the phone and I felt kind of a pressure on me while I was talking but I didn′t think much of it.

"Now, anyone who knows me knows how much I love to watch a good basketball game and when I didn′t feel like watching a game as a big as a Big East semifinal then I knew something was wrong."

Something was indeed seriously wrong.

Pat Galbreath drove Ron to The Medical Center, Beaver, in Brighton Township, and the emergency room doctors diagnosed the stroke. He was then transported to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

"The doctors at the Medical Center were so great," Galbreath said. "They ran so many tests and thankfully they ran one more and found the stroke. If not, I probably wouldn′t be here today."

Once Galbreath′s life was out of danger and he regained full consciousness, he had paralysis on his left side.

"I was scared, really, really scared," Galbreath said. "My father had suffered a stroke and his entire left side wound up being paralyzed. I really thought that was going to happen to me."

However, the feeling and movement in Galbreath′s left side has gradually returned.

"When I first felt some tingling in my left hand, it was cause for celebration," Galbreath said. "Little things like that you take for granted but they become very big things in a situation like this."

Galbreath is still in the process of regaining his motor skills. He now has to stop and think for a split-second about certain movements that would were once second nature.

While Galbreath still uses the aid of a wheelchair when he gets tired, he is again walking and eating on his own. He has had to relearn such functions as handwriting and proudly showed a visitor the first word he wrote during the early stages of occupational therapy.

Not surprisingly, that word was "hoops."

"As long as he is able to write X′s and O′s to draw up plays, he′ll be fine," Pat Galbreath said with a smile.

Galbreath is one of the most well-liked figures in the area′s basketball community and is also a world-class racquetball player. And while he has had hundreds of well-wishers contact both his wife and Geneva′s athletic department, Galbreath limited his visitors at Harmarville to just a handful.

"I′ve been blessed with so many great friends and a great family that I could have sat for hours every day and visited," Galbreath said. "But I wanted my entire focus while in the hospital to be on getting better. I wanted to work as hard as I possibly could to recover and get back to a normal life.

"I think of where I was a month ago and where I am now, and I am just so incredibly thankful about how care I′ve come along."

With that, Galbreath paused and smiled.

"Geno DeMarco has an expression he uses all the time," Galbreath said, referring to Geneva′s athletic director and football coach. "He always says, ‘With God, all things are possible.′

"That is so true. I am living proof of that."