Tedy Bruschi looks like he still could shed a blocker, fill a gap and take down a hard-charging running back.

That is impressive enough when you consider the 36-year-old native Californian is a year removed from a 14-year career with the National Football League's New England Patriots.

It is confounding when you realize Bruschi also is four years removed from a potentially debilitating stroke.

"I was very fortunate to receive tremendous medical care and the medicines I needed," Bruschi said during a Tuesday visit to the neonatal special care unit at Trinity Medical Center's Moline campus.

Bruschi and fellow former NFL standout Jerome Bettis were there to promote the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a program that provides medicine to Americans in need.

Bruschi, who played in five Super Bowls and won three, provided inspiration to fellow stroke victims when he returned to the football field eight months after his February 2005 stroke.

That was mere weeks after he had won his third Super Bowl ring and only three days after Bruschi played in his first Pro Bowl.

A vicious headache coupled with neck pain and numbness in his left side should have told the 6-foot-1, 247-pound linebacker something was amiss, but he went back to bed, thinking he could sleep it off.

"I think like many people out there I equated the word stroke with the elderly," he said. "Like my grandmother. My grandfather. Those are people who had strokes. I didn't think it was possible for me."

Only when he discovered the next morning that his left-eye vision was impaired did Bruschi know he was in trouble.

He had suffered a mild stroke resulting from a previously undiagnosed hole in his heart.

Bruschi was certain then that his playing career was over, but, after surgery to repair his heart, he began working diligently to regain the strength in his left arm and leg.

When his vision returned to normal, Bruschi began plotting his surprising return to the football field.

That return in October 2005 was an easy sell as far as the Patriots were concerned. Bruschi, after all, had long been the team's emotional leader.

His wife, Heidi, was another story. She allowed it, with a "3-second" stipulation. She said, "If you are lying on the field for longer than 3 seconds, I'm coming out after you."

"So 366 times, I had to get up in under 3 seconds," Bruschi said.

The latter is the total number of tackles Bruschi made in 21/2 seasons after his stroke.

"I led the Patriots in tackles twice my entire career," he said. "I did that post-stroke and post-recovery. That is something I am very proud of."

He also is proud of the message that his successful comeback sent to others battling the effects of a stroke or other medical issues.

"I get a lot of e-mails and letters from people who heard about my story," said Bruschi, now an NFL analyst for ESPN. "They said if I could come back, put on a helmet and crash against 300-pound men and make tackles, they had the inspiration to get back to their desk job or whatever job they wanted to do.

"It's comforting to know I could help."

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