When former NFL player Tedy Bruschi felt numbness down the left side of his body, balance loss, severe headache and loss of vision, he and his wife didn’t know what was happening. Because he was only 31, they never suspected a stroke.

Mere days after playing the Pro Bowl 2005 in Hawaii, Bruschi was diagnosed with an ischemic stroke in the right side of his brain, along with a hole in his heart called a patent foramen ovale that also contributed to his symptoms.

With that comes a mental struggle — not only being able to deal with it yourself, but also being able to speak about it and communicate about it, and say proudly, ‘Yes, I’m a stroke survivor.'

Staying strong

Bruschi, now 45, has since launched an organization called Tedy’s Team with the American Stroke Association. He is raising awareness of the early signs of stroke with the goal of helping others get the care they need as quickly as possible. He is also assisting others like himself navigate what being a stroke survivor can mean.

Bruschi’s life changed overnight. “With that comes a mental struggle — not only being able to deal with it yourself, but also being able to speak about it and communicate about it, and say proudly, ‘Yes, I’m a stroke survivor,’” he says.

That wasn’t easy for Bruschi, who is the only NFL player to return to pro football after having a stroke. He recalls lamenting a journalist’s questions to former teammate Mike Vrabel in the locker after the game.

“They wanted to talk to me about being a stroke survivor. They didn’t ask me any questions about who we were playing or the game,” Bruschi recalls. “I let out a sigh, and Vrabel said, ‘You’re never living that one down!’”

Inspiring others

After recovering from his stroke, Bruschi has embraced his role as an inspirational voice in this space. Through Tedy’s Team, he and other survivors raise money for stroke research and promote awareness of the condition by running two annual races, including the Boston Marathon. They also lean on each other as they navigate life after stroke.

“It’s good to be with people that know what you’re going through — that’s what Tedy’s Team is all about,” he says. “It’s a support system and a family.”