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Dec 27th, 2008

Pat Forte is Thankful on the Ice

Pat Forte with sister Cathy and son Nico at the 2008 Lung Run/Walk. (Family photograph)

By Tom Elliott
St. Cloud Times
December 25, 2008

Pat Forte is spending a whole bunch of time at the hockey rink these days and for that he is extremely thankful.

Cancer kept him away from his passion as a hockey coach and nearly cost him his life.

He was given six months to live in 2006, but has now been cancer-free since complicated surgery removed a huge tumor that was attached to his heart and one of his lungs.

He’s down to one lung, takes medication for nerve damage after having his chest reconstructed and admits to sometimes having trouble breathing, especially in ice-cold hockey rinks.

But hey, he’s alive.

“I can remember being laid up in the hospital after my surgery and talking to the pastor and asking him, ‘How do I thank people for all they’ve done for me,'” Forte said. “And the pastor said, ‘Share your story.'”

Here it is.

Forte will be behind the bench as an assistant coach for the Sartell boys hockey team when it plays in the Granite City Classic Monday through Wednesday at the Municipal Athletic Complex. …

Teams from St. Cloud Cathedral, Sauk Rapids and St. Cloud Apollo also are competing, as are Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato, Dodge County and Bismarck (N.D.) Century. …

Back at the rink

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Forte, who returns to the ice at the high school-level for the first time since 2000. “The kids are very nice. They work hard.”

“I love working with (head coach) Ryan Hacker and (assistant) Troy Fath. They’re great guys I’ve known a long time.”

Hacker and Fath played at Alexandria when Forte was coach at Brainerd. Forte taught and coached at Brainerd from 1991-99 before taking over as Apollo’s head coach for the 1999-2000 season. He was the Warriors’ head coach for four seasons, winning one Central Lakes Conference title.

“He’s very, very knowledgeable,” Hacker said. “He knows the game inside and out and has a lot of experience.”

“I’m only in my second year (as head coach), so he helps me out a lot.”

A sixth-grade teacher at Kennedy Community School in St. Joseph, Forte left Apollo for personal reasons after winning the CLC title with the Eagles, mostly focusing on raising his young son Nico, who is now 8 years old.

“I couldn’t make the time commitment to be a head coach,” said Forte, who is single.

Forte, a native of Eveleth, coached the Minnesota Select 17s for six years and spent two years coaching in the elite league. It quenched his desire to stay involved in hockey.

His rare cancer — it’s called thymic carcinoid — kept him away from the ice entirely the past two years.

But he still has the hockey itch.

“I thought about getting back into hockey,” he said. “A lot of hockey friends encouraged me because I have a passion for it.”

“I also have a passion for teaching. But that didn’t feed my competitive juices like hockey does. I’m very competitive.”

Forte was a high school star. He has had his No. 17 retired in Eveleth, which is home to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

He played Division I hockey at American International University in Massachusetts. Bad knees prevented him from taking his career further. He had nine knee surgeries when he retired.

“The number’s up to 16 now,” he said. “I’m kind of a physical wreck for 42 years old.”

He’s also taught and coached in Chisholm, Austin and Mora.

Life put on hold

But the hockey and the teaching all got put on hold in February 2006. That’s when he checked himself into St. Cloud Hospital because of a breathing ailment he thought was related to his asthma.

Doctors instead found a tumor measuring about 4¾ inches, which Forte says is considered huge.

He was diagnosed with thymic carcinoid, a rare cancer that attacked his lungs.

It’s so rare, there are about 200 known cases of it in the world. Because of its rarity, research is limited. Treatments were mostly educated guesses for doctors.

Forte became a Guinea pig at the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center, where he spent 61 days.

The tumor was too big to remove initially. It was also resistant to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. There were thoughts that the cancer might be inoperable.

“For about four or five weeks there, news would come and it was worse than the day before,” Forte said. “Things got very stressful and scary.”

“I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to die now? I’m only 40. And of course, Forte is my name, so I thought about that. I was thinking a lot of weird thoughts.”

Doctors suggested a drug normally prescribed for kidney cancer to see if it would do anything. It did. The tumor shrunk enough for surgery to be viable.

But the ordeal was far from over. He needed a 12-hour procedure to remove his lung, detach the tumor from his heart and reconstruct his chest. He was told there was a one-in-three chance he would die.

“I beat the odds, I guess,” he said.

Thinking about his son kept him going through the ordeal, which included more surgery.

The cancer hasn’t come back. He returned to class in the spring of 2007. By 2008, after a couple more checkups said he was still cancer-free, Forte decided to get back into hockey.

He’s one of those guys who plans to live life to the fullest, even if he has to take things slowly every now and then because he’s down to one lung.

He says his Catholic faith has helped, too. It got him through some tough times.

“I’m a Christian,” he said.

Enjoying life

Through the grapevine, he heard there might be an opening on Sartell’s staff last summer. Activities director John Ross told him to apply and he was hired this fall.

He was finally back on the ice. His recovery from cancer had taken another step.

Forte is Sartell’s junior varsity coach. He says that as a former varsity coach, he understands his role well.

He’s trying to develop young players so they can become good varsity players. The goal is to develop players more than necessarily winning. Not that Forte, ultra competitive, is not trying to win. He is.

“I remember calling him and asking him if he’d be willing to help us out,” Hacker said. “He’s been absolutely great for our program.” …

“When I was away from it, I thought a lot about hockey because I definitely have a passion for it,” Forte said. “I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen so far at Sartell.”

“From the parents to the youth coaches to everyone, they seem dedicated and positive.”

It’s how Forte is approaching life, too.

“If you love something, you’ve got to do it because your time on this earth is very short,” he said. “I happen to love teaching hockey to kids, love relating to them.”

“I hope, after what I’ve been through, I can help them learn to deal with adversity.”


Related story

Unleash Discovery: Meeting the World’s Toughest Challenges

University of Minnesota Foundation 2008 Annual Report

Pat Forte with his son Nico
University of Minnesota Foundation)

After a diagnosis of thymic carcinoid, a rare cancer that had attacked his lungs and pericardium, Pat Forte was given six months to live. But the 42-year-old single dad and sixth-grade teacher from Sartell, Minnesota, was sent to the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center for his cancer treatment, where his team of doctors wasn’t about to give up.

“This is a very rare cancer, and no research has been done on it,” Forte explains. “Worse, it’s resistant to chemotherapy and radiation.” So when his physician suggested a drug normally prescribed for kidney cancer, Forte agreed.

In three weeks, the drug had inhibited the cancer activity and Forte could undergo radical surgery to remove a lung and reconstruct his chest. “They didn’t sugar coat anything, but told it to me straight, answered all my questions, and shared my excitement at my progress. They treated me like a person.”

Minnesota Masonic Charities’ $65 million gift to cancer research and care — the largest gift ever given to the U of M — will mean more success stories like Forte’s. “I needed a miracle,” he says. “I found it in my doctors at the U.”

Two years later, Forte is cancer free and home with his son Nico, who is in second grade. “He is my number one priority,” says Forte. “My doctors did everything they could to get me back to living as normally as possible. I enjoy every single moment of every single day.”


Pat Forte Update (Dec. 27, 2009)

Nico_11-29-08-1.jpg picture by Rifleman-Al
Nico Forte’s 8th birthday party, November 2008. From left to right: Matt, Tim, Pat, Aubrey, Patrick, Nico, Beth. (Photo: Pam Immelman)

Pat Forte’s CaringBridge site



Br. Dietrich Reinhart, OSB

Br. Dietrich Reinhart, OSB
(Photo: Saint John’s University)

On Friday, December 5, 2008 Br. Dietrich Reinhart, OSB, President Emeritus of Saint John’s University, returned to St. John’s Abbey and University after brain surgery at the Mayo Clinic to treat malignant metastatic melanoma. A few days later he was interviewed on film about his life, Saint John’s, and his legacy as the 11th president of Saint John’s University.

The film will be shown on the occasion of a special tribute at Saint John’s to commemorate Br. Dietrich’s retirement as president and to celebrate his new role as founding director of the Benedictine Institute at Saint John’s University.

Excerpt from the film: Our Best Days Are Yet to Come (01:32)


12/29/08 Update

SJU President Emeritus Dietrich Reinhart passes away

Br. Dietrich Reinhart, OSB, president emeritus of Saint John’s University, passed away peacefully in Collegeville early on Monday, Dec. 29, 2008. Br. Dietrich served as the 11th president of Saint John’s University from July 1, 1991 to October 21, 2008.

Funeral arrangements

The monks of Saint John’s Abbey will receive the body of Br. Dietrich at a Vigil Service at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 5. Abbot John Klassen, OSB, will preside at the Mass of Christian Burial at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 6, in the Saint John’s Abbey Church. Interment will follow in the Saint John’s Abbey Cemetery.

Further updates: Br. Dietrich Reinhart Funeral

Additional information

+ Obituary: Brother Dietrich Reinhart OSB, 1949-2008

Dietrich Reinhart announces resignation (Oct. 16, 2008)

St. Cloud Times photo gallery: Anointing Service for Br. Dietrich
(Nov. 5, 2008)

Br. Dietrich biography and selected speeches

4 Responses to “A Christmas Story”
  1. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Br. Dietrich Reinhart Funeral Says:

    […] Additional information on this site […]

  2. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Pat Forte Update Says:

    […] A Christmas Story […]

  3. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Screaming Eagles’ Year of Sacrifice Says:

    […] A Christmas Story […]

  4. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Pat Forte Obituary Says:

    […] A Christmas Story (Dec. 27, 2008) […]

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