$1 million grant will fund free care, research, and community education.
In front of a packed audience nestled in the second-floor lounge of the Sanders IMPACT Practice Center last Thursday night, the excitement was palpable. In just a few moments, MGH Institute of Health Professions would officially be partnering with one of the most well-known stroke survivors in the country and the charitable organization he co-founded with his wife.
Then came the countdown, the ribbon cutting by oversized gold-colored scissors, and the cheers of excitement by friends, stroke survivors, fundraisers, researchers, and members of the IHP community. The Tedy’s Team Center of Excellence in Stroke Recovery at MGH Institute of Health Professions was official.
The Center was made possible thanks to a $1 million gift by Tedy’s Team, the charitable entity that uses running as a platform for stroke awareness and philanthropy. It was co-founded by former New England Patriot great Tedy Bruschi and his wife Heidi after Tedy suffered a stroke at the age of 31. Through his rehabilitation, Bruschi made a stunning return to professional football. The Bruschis are hoping fellow stroke survivors being assisted at the MGH Institute will have the same opportunity for a comeback as Tedy received.
“When Tedy had his first stroke, he was a New England Patriot,” said Heidi Bruschi. “And with that came special care - trainers, a team of doctors, a support staff that was guiding us all the way and we were very blessed to have that. Not everyone has that. So, this partnership really helps us to provide that same level of care to everyone – free care, for as long as needed to stroke survivors, to their families, to their caregivers. And that is a game changer. We're so proud to be in this partnership with the MGH Institute and the Center of Excellence in Stroke Recovery.”
The partnership with the IHP came from a relationship that began almost 20 years ago. When Bruschi began rehabilitation, he worked with IHP assistant professor of physical therapy Anne McCarthy Jacobson, who was also working at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. Tedy Bruschi credits McCarthy Jacobson as critical to him getting back on the field. The Bruschis have stayed in touch with McCarthy Jacobson through the years and when the time came to invest in stroke recovery, that long-term connection with the IHP came full circle.
“Anne introduced us to this wonderful place,” Tedy Bruschi told the crowd. “She said, ‘Tedy, this is something you need to be associated with. This is something where I volunteer my time, where I work.’ Anne, thank you so much for making that connection. And because of that, here we are, here we are.”
Institute President Paula Milone-Nuzzo told the crowd that beyond high quality treatment, the Center will build on the science of stroke recovery treatment by advancing legislation and policy while educating the public about treatment and warning signs.
“Experts in stroke rehabilitation services from each of our clinical centers will collaborate on addressing the complex and highly specialized issues facing stroke survivors and their families,” said Milone-Nuzzo. “The Center will capitalize on and leverage the expertise of the clinical policy and research experts that we have here at the IHP through collaborative clinical projects.”
The ribbon cutting was also attended by New England Patriots President Jonathan Kraft and emceed by CBS Boston Sports Director Steve Burton, who brought the audience back to the day when shock waves rippled across New England.
“That day back in 2005, that was a wake-up call not only for me, but for all of New England. And I will never forget it. I will never ever forget that day,” said Burton. “That was the day I learned that Tedy Bruschi had a stroke. The All-Pro linebacker suffered a stroke at the age of 31. Think about that - 31 years old. Tedy was strong. Tedy was durable. Tedy was sharp. Tedy was in trouble. And we were just praying that Tedy would be healthy again, never mind come back and play football again. But that’s just what Tedy did - and he came back in a huge way.”
|Watch Tedy and Heidi discuss Tedy's recovery and their goal to help other stroke survivors with the creation of the Stroke Center.|
Seeing Rehabilitation in Action
Comebacks and second chances at life are focal points of the Center, which was underscored before the event when Tedy and Heidi Bruschi met two stroke survivors receiving therapy from students under the direction of faculty members.
They learned about 43-year-old Tiffaney Frongillo, a mother of two who sustained a stroke in 2020 and came to the Sanders IMPACT Practice Center for rehabilitation in 2021 and has been receiving free care ever since. Now battling aphasia and apraxia, Frongillo found herself sitting across from one of the most famous stroke survivors in the country who was profoundly interested in her story.
The former linebacker and his wife asked Frongillo a series of thoughtful questions, looking to know how she was doing in the 18 months since she first began getting assistance at the Aphasia Center.
Frongillo beamed when she talked about how she was progressing. After looking over at speech-language pathology student Cailin Murphy, she slowly told the Bruschis of her journey, and her goals of improving her ability to understand what she’s read, along with word finding skills so she can communicate more effectively.
“I can see you’re putting together sentences, which is incredible,” said Tedy Bruschi.
”Yes!” replied Frongillo, who told the couple her twice weekly visits has “helped me get me better.”
Towards the end of their visit, Bruschi told Frongillo how much he admired her determination to work towards building the best life she could have.
Frongillo asked for an autograph for her son, Mason, a huge Patriots fan. Not missing a beat, Bruschi himself asked Frongillo for her autograph, and she happily obliged, showing the couple how her writing has improved.
After a half-hour visiting with Frongillo, Tedy and Heidi Bruschi met Daniel Farrell, a 35-year-old who sustained a stroke in 2021. Holding a tablet and using an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app, called Avaz, he greeted the couple.
“I’ve had a language disorder since my stroke,” said Farrell via the app, who came to the Center in January for physical, occupational, and speech therapy.
Working with physical therapy instructor Gwen Larsen and Doctor of Physical Therapy student Kylee Wollins, Farrell began his physical therapy session by working on his gait and balance by side-stepping into the empty spaces of an agility ladder on the floor – part of dynamic balance exercises meant to improve Farrell’s balance and safety when he’s walking in the community or challenging environments. Larson explained Dan was working on improving the time it took to complete the course. That prompted Bruschi to pull out his cell phone and, with a big smile, say, “Let’s see how fast you can do this, Dan.”
After doing it in 13.9 seconds, Bruschi looked at him and said, “Let’s beat that time.” Dan, wearing a Patriots hoodie and an even bigger smile, said “Yea” and began again. He clocked in at 11.2 seconds, prompting him to do an exploding fist bump with the former linebacker.
“Great job,” Bruschi said.
The pair then worked on an exercise designed to make walking and balance more automatic, freeing attention for other tasks and managing distractions. Using his left arm not affected by his stroke, Dan tossed a rubber ball back and forth, stepping a little further back for each throw while walking forwards and backwards. After a series of successful catches, Farrell suddenly had a case of the drops.
Seeing that and knowing how success builds upon success, Bruschi said he wanted to end the session with a solid catch. “We can’t end with a drop,” he said.
Three tosses later, Dan made the catch, and it was smiles all around.
The progress of both survivors – and their hopes for the future – resonated with the Bruschis and reaffirmed the $1 million investment Tedy’s Team made to the IHP.
“Dan's working on walking again. Tiffaney's working on communication again,” said Tedy Bruschi. “You know, every stroke recovery has their own challenges, some greater than others, but to see them and their attitude and their work ethic about how, ‘Yeah, this is what I've been dealt, but still, I have a support system. I have a plan on how to get better and I'm going to follow that.’ It's very Patriot-like.”
“It's amazing,” said Heidi Bruschi of what she saw at the IPC. “The people, the standard of care, the love and the support that they offer these clients. There is no set time frame and for each one of them, it's different. To be able to come here for as long as needed, it’s really special and it's really important. Your care doesn't end when your insurance says it does.”
Implementing Changes More Quickly
Offering hope, a second chance, and free care for the uninsured and underinsured is just one facet of the new Center of Excellence in Stroke Recovery. Other signature features will be translating science to practice by advancing research in stroke recovery and educating the community about stroke symptoms.
Dr. Kim Erler, the Center’s inaugural director, told the audience that it typically takes 15 years for science to go from the lab to the bedside and actually be implemented into patient care.
“We're going to change that. We have the best scientists collaborating with the clinical faculty at the IHP and we're going to have them be in the clinic working with these patients to actually make a difference,” said Erler. “That's something that we’re going to be able to do so that it doesn't take 15 years and so that we can become a model for future stroke rehabilitation. We can then say, ‘Look at our outcomes. Look at these technologies. Look at these interventions. Let's go to the policymakers and make this available for everyone, not just those who are coming to our Center.’”
The Center of Excellence, housed within the IHP’s interprofessional IMPACT Practice Center, leverages the excellent services provided within the Aphasia Center, the Ionta Physical Therapy Center, and the Tabor/Connor Occupational Therapy Center, to address the highly complex issues of stroke rehabilitation that cannot be solved by one discipline alone.
Speaking of alone, the Bruschis certainly weren’t alone when Tedy received a second chance at life, and both he and Heidi are counting on the new Center of Excellence in Stroke Recovery to provide stroke survivors with the same.
“We're giving people a second chance,” said Tedy Bruschi. “The rehabilitation process in general – they give you a certain amount of time to rehab, a certain number of visits to therapy centers or whatever it may be. And then what do you do after it ends? You know, you can come here. This is a place that involves teaching, learning, and recovery. And we provide it to people for free. And that's something that we're both very proud of.”