American Football or “Gridiron” is one of the toughest sports in the world. To compete in the national league in America, athletes need to be at their peak physical and mental abilities. On February 15, 2005, 31 year old Tedy Bruschi, a linebacker for the New England Patriots had an Ischemic Stroke. A stroke victim returning to a job which required smashing full-speed into other enormous men might have seemed like a far-fetched idea to some, but not to Tedy Bruschi.
Tedy had suffered an ischemic stroke in the back, right side of his brain. An echocardiogram revealed that Bruschi—like 25–30% of the population—had what is called a patent foramen ovale, a hole in the heart that allows blood to pass between the atria, or upper chambers of the heart. In Bruschi’s case, this hole contributed to his stroke.
While recovery from stroke depends on a number of factors—including the severity of the brain injury, its location and size, the cause of the stroke, and the patient’s age and overall health, “recovery is a definite possibility”. Those words were all Tedy needed. From that point on Tedy focused on his sole goal of returning to football.
Bruschi rehabbed diligently with a physical therapist specializing in neurological disorders. At the start, he couldn’t even balance without his physio’s support. But after several weeks, Bruschi’s symptoms improved; and after several months, they were almost gone. Still, the progress was never fast enough for this impatient athlete.
“I experienced every emotion across the spectrum,” Bruschi said. “At times I was depressed, wondering why this happened to me. Other times I was determined. Being a pro athlete helped, having that understanding of how hard you have to work to succeed.”
Bruschi explained that “despite all the ups and downs, the good days and the bad I stayed focused. I stayed focused on my goal of returning to football but also my smaller short term goals that kept me pushing through those bad days”. “I had to do it,” Bruschi says, alluding to the many stroke survivors who wrote and looked to him for inspiration. “People were counting on me to show it could be done.”
Bruschi was ultimately given medical clearance to return, and on the night of October 16th, 2005, just eight months after the incident, stroke survivor Tedy Bruschi took the field again for the New England Patriots.
Tedy Bruschi was 31 years old, in peak physical condition and suffered a mild to moderate stroke. He had ticked most of the boxes that would allow him to return to normal life before he even suffered his stroke. Most stroke survivors aren’t given this luxury. The one thing they can control post stroke is how they bounce back. Tedy’s story highlights how important focus, determination, motivation and attitude are in recovering from any injury be it Neurological or otherwise.
“The most satisfying moments come when we work through our biggest challenges” – Tedy Bruschi.