Former New England Patriot gives rousing address to graduates, encouraging them to help survivors make comebacks

Peering into a sea of health professions graduates of the MGH Institute of Health Professions, two-time stroke survivor Tedy Bruschi was inspired. He approached the microphone and talked of the resignation he had in the days following the stroke he suffered during the prime of his NFL career.

”I went to see Coach Belichick and said, ‘I’m retiring. I can’t do this. They have to repair a hole in my heart, and I couldn’t see the left field in both of my eyes.’ I thought it was over - I thought I was forever changed but rehabilitation and therapy helped me come back and the relationship all of you will be having with your patients is going to be incredible.”

Bruschi said he still has a relationship with the physical therapist who helped him come back, Ann McCarthy Jacobson, who he asked to stand up, to a roaring ovation. Then he continued to address the graduates.

“To the hundreds and hundreds of all of your patients, maybe thousands, that you may be having in your future, if I could say something for them because I know they will want to say it: Thank you. Thank you for everything you're about to do, for making the commitment to joining the healthcare field, to helping people have a comeback. 

“I had a comeback and it was made possible by people like you and the people that you will help. Now they may not be trying to come back and play in the National Football League, but as simple as coming back to sit at their desk and complete their tasks. So being a father, being a husband and being a mother - rehabilitating to do that. That's important. It's so much more important.”

Moments earlier, the former New England Patriots linebacker and his wife Heidi, received honorary doctorates from the MGH Institute for their role in inspiring stroke survivors to make their own comeback, and for helping create the Tedy’s Team Center of Excellence in Stroke Recovery at MGH Institute of Health Professions. The Center was made possible thanks to a $1 million gift by Tedy’s Team, the charitable entity founded by the couple that uses running as a platform for stroke awareness and philanthropy. 

“It’s humbling,” said Heidi Bruschi of the honorary doctorate. “And it’s an amazing honor. Tedy and I get all the glory and the honorary doctorate, but really, it's our team and our runners and so I'm glad that some are here today. We get to be the ones that are honored, but it's really all the work that goes on behind the scenes with our team and our runners.”

When Bruschi had his first stroke at the age of 31, he was with the New England Patriots and received the best care: trainers, a team of doctors, a support staff that was guiding them all the way. Through his rehabilitation, Bruschi made a stunning return to professional football.

But not everyone has that level of support, something the Bruschis are more than aware of. They were intrigued by the IHP innovative education-care model allowing people with chronic stroke to continue bro-bono services. Helping students with their education is an added benefit. 

“It’s an amazing partnership that we're so thrilled to be a part,” said Heidi Bruschi before the ceremony. “It’s been a long time coming for us to find something that we felt was worthy of this partnership. It took a while for us to sort of build up to a point where we felt we could give a gift like this. But the being at the center and seeing what they do is incredible. It's an incredible, incredible experience.”

Tedy’s Team Center of Excellence is founded on the pillars of community outreach, research, and bridging the gap between practice and research. The Center leverages the innovative education-care model treating people with chronic stroke at the IHP Impact Practice Center. The Impact Practice Center treated approximately 200 chronic stroke survivors over the past year for speech, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and nursing.  Recently the Center named four research fellows to pursue a key goal of research the effects of stroke on areas like speech, language, and brain activity.

“The Center is teaching and it's also about rehabilitation,” said Bruschi before the graduation ceremony. “For me to have success in my NFL career, I had to have good coaching, and I had to have a lot of help from my comeback after a stroke. The more and more patients we can help you know, even after the insurance piece, that's a big part of the IHP in the Center of Excellence in Stroke Recovery. You can still get care – that’s the big piece that really drew me to help at the IHP.”

During the ceremony, some graduates shook hands and thanked the Bruschis – who were seated in the front row – as they received their diplomas. 

For his part, Tedy Bruschi ended his address to the audience by telling them he never kept track of how many tackles or sacks he had as a linebacker, but after coming back from his stroke, he counted everything, and that included the 366 tackles he had in the four seasons he played as a stroke survivor. 

“I wouldn't be here without you. A lot of people won't be able to make their comeback without you,” said Bruschi, who ended with something his old coach would say. “So go out there and do your job.”

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