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Smiling Bruschi leaves hospital

BOSTON -- Former NHL player Brian Mullen is one of the few
pro athletes who has a sense of what New England Patriots
linebacker Tedy Bruschi is going through.

Mullen, like Bruschi, suffered a mild stroke, his coming in
1993. The former New York Islander made a comeback attempt two
years later after undergoing surgery to correct the heart problem
that caused his stroke, but eventually decided to retire.
"I think the biggest thing you've got to overcome is your own
mind," Mullen said. "It definitely gets in your head. You ask
yourself, 'Am I doing the right thing for my family?' "
One of the team's most popular players, the 31-year-old Bruschi
was released Friday from Massachusetts General Hospital after
spending two days there recovering from a mild stroke that caused
numbness, blurred vision and severe headaches.
He waved and smiled but didn't comment to reporters as he
stepped into a waiting sports utility vehicle and drove off.
Patriots spokesman Stacey James did not respond to questions about
whether Bruschi would be able to play pro football again.
Experts say his return will depend on the stroke's cause and
severity. A mild stroke isn't necessarily a career-ending event for
a professional athlete, but the risk is higher for someone who
takes the punishment of an NFL linebacker.
Doctors pointed to Bruschi's quick release from the hospital,
along with reports that he was walking and talking normally a day
after the stroke, as hopeful signs that he may be able continue his
career. Still, his prognosis remains uncertain because all strokes
cause some level of brain damage and can raise fears of a
recurrence.
"There really is no good stroke," said Dr. Larry Brass, a
professor of neurology, epidemiology and public health at the Yale
University School of Medicine.
Hockey, like football, is a fast, full-contact sport, and one of
Mullen's concerns about returning was taking a hit. When he got
past that, he had to convince his teammates it was OK to hit him in
practice. Eventually, he said, he stopped fearing that his body
couldn't take the punishment.
He looks back at his difficult decision to retire and wonders if
he should have kept trying. But he added that the stroke changed
everything.
"As an athlete, up to that point, you feel invincible," Mullen
said. "Something like that happens, and it shakes up your whole
life."
Bruschi, a nine-year veteran, has been a key member of the
defense that helped New England win three of the last four Super
Bowls. On Sunday, Bruschi played in his first Pro Bowl in Hawaii.
His wife, Heidi, called 911 on Wednesday, saying he was
experiencing "blurred vision, numbness on the right side of his
body."
An estimated 700,000 people per year in the United States suffer
strokes, which occur when blood flow to the brain is interrupted.
The vast majority result from clots that block the brain's
arteries. Another type involves bleeding in or around the brain,
sometimes due to ruptured blood vessels.
The hospital and the Patriots have not said what kind of stroke
Bruschi suffered.
Experts said it could be weeks before doctors pinpoint the
stroke's cause, and Bruschi's professional future won't be any
clearer until they do.
"Even if the effects of the stroke are mild, and we hope they
are, the crucial thing is determining the cause," said Dr. Robert
Adams, a spokesman for the American Stroke Association.
The damage from a stroke depends on several factors, including
how long before it was treated, what part of the brain the stroke
occurs in and the intensity of the rehabilitation.
Brass said Bruschi's apparently quick recovery could be a sign
of a specific type of stroke in which the symptoms last less than
24 hours and leave no lasting damage. A traumatic injury to a part
of the body can also damage blood vessels and lead to clotting, but
that wouldn't be a big risk once the blood vessel healed.
Tests could also reveal a predisposition to blood vessel tears
or other factors which would make a return to the field risky,
Brass said.
Strokes among people as young as Bruschi are relatively rare,
with about 30,000 to 40,000 occurring annually in people ages 18 to
50. A cause is difficult to pinpoint in many of those cases because
the possibilities aren't as obvious as they are in older people,
who often have cholesterol problems.
"It's like your car breaking down after 5,000 miles," Brass
said. "Something's wrong."