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Northeastern University soccer player and stroke survivor shares her story at Wear Red for Women

Katie Jerdee helps raise awareness about stroke warning signs. Photo by Cliff Hollis, ECU News Services.
GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Feb. 5, 2010)   —   As a college sophomore, 20-year-old Katie Jerdee of Boston suffered a massive stroke, something she thought only happened to older adults.

Too often, people dismiss warning signs and wait too long for help, thinking a problem will go away on its own. Jerdee stressed how important it is to heed symptoms in her talk at the Wear Red for Women event at the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU today.

She was running in November 2006 with her Northeastern University soccer team  when she began to veer uncontrollably into oncoming traffic. She grabbed a street sign post to stop. “It felt like a giant magnet was pulling my right arm,” she said, adding she got a severe headache like never before. She slurred her speech when she talked. A teammate who was a nursing major suggested she go to the emergency room. Jerdee agreed thinking she was probably just dehydrated.

At the hospital, she couldn’t hold a pen to sign forms at registration. “At that point, I realized something was really wrong,” said Jerdee, who quickly became sensitive to light and movement.

Physicians told her she suffered an ischemic stroke in her cerebellum. She remained in intensive care for a week. She couldn’t walk or run when she left the hospital and her right side was slightly paralyzed. “My coordination is still a little off,” she said.

Jerdee was fatigued, her immune system was weakened and her speech was still slurred. Still, she was able to continue two of her four classes at the university, reaching a compromise with her doctor on her desire to return to school as soon as possible. She began outpatient rehabilitation with physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.

Eventually, she was able to walk and run again and her speech cleared. She wasn’t able to play soccer at first, but decided she wouldn’t settle. She returned to soccer in 2007 against her parent’s wishes. Her first scrimmage was frustrating. “I could do everything in my brain,” but not on the field, she said.

It was during this time that she became familiar with Tedy Bruschi, a linebacker for the New England Patriots, who had a stroke in 2005 and who returned to the gridiron. He had been treated at the same rehabilitation center as Jerdee.

“I used him as my motivation,” she said. She became the first stroke survivor to run on Bruschi’s Boston Marathon team to raise money for stroke research. She is currently training for her third marathon this spring.

Jerdee and Brushci work with the American Heart Association to raise awareness among young people about stroke. About one in three people under the age of 65 will suffer a stroke. Strokes are two times more common in African Americans and although men have more strokes than women, women die more often as a result of stroke. Stroke kills twice as many women as cancer. And stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Jerdee, a finance major who will graduate from Northeastern in May, said every minute counts with stroke because two billion brain cells are killed in just one minute.

She asked participants to remember FAST, an acronym for face, arm, speech and time. Numbness or weakness, trouble speaking, seeing or walking, dizziness, severe headache and loss of balance are all signs of stroke.

While race, age and family history are uncontrollable risk factors, Jerdee said up to 80 percent of all strokes can be prevented through proper diet and exercise, not smoking and preventing or controlling diabetes and high blood pressure. Women who smoke and take birth control pills have a 22 percent increase in their risk of stroke, she said.

Jerdee reminded participants that it’s their choice, and shared a quote that has helped her: “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.”


Contact: Crystal Baity | 252-744-3764