Frank Sinatra fans come together in unusual way

Peggy Fox tells the story of an unlikely connection.

CENTERVILLE, Va. (WUSA9) — A fascination with Frank Sinatra connected a popular professor at the University of Virginia with a young woman in Centreville who has a brain injury. 

Haley Bruggeman, 20, learned to love Sinatra a child, when her parents would play his songs over and over.  

That was before Haley suffered a brain injury from the heart attack she had when she was only 14 years old.

Now, she is physically impaired and uses a wheelchair. Since speaking is difficult, she uses an iPad to communicate. 

"A lot of her deficits are from the midbrain, which controls your muscles and your mouth,” her parents, Bob and Pattie Bruggeman said.

“The frontal cortex and all that is perfectly fine,” they added. “So, she's exactly the same person she was, but people judge her by what they see."

Because of her disability, Haley is able to continue at Westfield High School for two more years until she's 22. She loves science class the most.

Her parents see gradual improvement in her abilities. 

Her passion is Frank Sinatra. At 20 years old, Haley has become an expert on “Ol' Blue Eyes is Back”.

She knows Sinatra’s birthdate, the names of his four wives, all his songs, movies, Rat Pack trivia and many more personal details.

This fascination gave Brooke Annessa and Michelle Thyen with Brain Injury Services an idea. 

"Haley has this unique knowledge, this amazing skill set about Frank Sinatra. It would be really nice to have a volunteer who could work with Haley on that shared interest," said Thyen, the director of community engagement for Brain Injury Services.

She placed an ad on the Internet. 

Bob McConnell, a renowned and popular criminology professor at UVA is also a huge Sinatra fan.

He has his Google personal page set up to alert him on anything new related to Sinatra. 

He saw the ad. At first, he passed it by. Then, he went back to see where this person with a brain injury lived.

Centreville, Virginia. Not too far from Charlottesville. He picked up the phone.

"He had this very professorial, amazing voice,” Thyen said. “He said that he had seen my ad for a volunteer who knew about Frank Sinatra."

She learned later that some UVA students wait three years to take Bob McConnell's criminology class.

McConnell said he's planning to drive up to visit Haley on Friday, July 1 and hopes it could be the start of a new friendship. 

"It's pretty amazing.  It's a really, really unique opportunity to bring two people together from different worlds,” Thyen said. “Bob is significantly older than Haley, but I have a feeling that she's probably going to teach him a thing or two about Frank.”

“We'll see."
 


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