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Celebrities, Professional Athletes and Stroke

Their stories put a spotlight on brain attacks that strike every 40 seconds in the U.S.


Stroke plays no favorites. Neither the celebrity nor the average Joe are immune.

It’s a leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death worldwide. On the positive side, advances in stroke treatment have increased the odds for us all. Still, every 40 seconds, someone in this country has a stroke, where blood flow to the brain is stopped by a blood vessel blockage or a hemorrhage.

In either case, it’s important to open the blockage or stop the bleeding as soon as possible to limit damage to brain cells, which begin dying soon after their blood supply is affected.

Lehigh Valley Health Network and Lehigh Valley Fleming Neuroscience Institute treat the highest number of stroke patients in the region.

When the average Joe survives a stroke, it usually doesn’t make the paper or network news, or flash across social media. When it happens to a celebrity or a professional athlete, the spotlight can be bright. The result of their stories is the spreading of important information about stroke, about getting help fast, and about amazing recoveries.

Lehigh Valley Health Network and Lehigh Valley Fleming Neuroscience Institute treat the highest number of stroke patients in the region. Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest was certified as a comprehensive stroke center, one of the first in the U.S., 12 years ago. Several other LVHN hospitals are designated as primary stroke centers or acute stroke ready hospitals, meaning they have special procedures to rapidly diagnose and treat a stroke emergency.

“Lehigh Valley Fleming Neuroscience Institute is the gold standard for stroke care,” says Steven Lewis, MD, Neuroscience Institute Physician in Chief. “Just as important as stroke care is stroke prevention. About 80% of strokes are preventable by reducing risk factors, including high blood pressure.”

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, so let’s recap some celebrity and athlete stroke survivor journeys to learn more about brain attacks.

Supermodel Hailey Bieber


The 27-year-old supermodel married to “The Biebs” had a mini-stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA), in March 2022. Media reports say she experienced a strange sensation that moved from her shoulder to her fingertips on one side of her body and caused drooping on one side of her face.

Though the blockage that caused her symptoms was temporary, tests showed she had a patent foramen ovale (PFO), a small hole between the two upper chambers of her heart. PFOs are a stroke risk factor because blood clots can travel from one upper chamber to the other and out into the body. She later underwent a procedure to close her PFO, calling her mini-stroke “the scariest moment of my life.”

About 1 in 4 adults has a PFO, and in most cases there are no complications.

NFL Linebacker Tedy Bruschi


Famed New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, now 50, suffered a stroke when he was just 31 and in the prime of his career. Like Haley Bieber, Bruschi also had a PFO and had it surgically closed after his first stroke in 2005. He returned to the Patriots eight months after the stroke.

An avid runner, he suffered a TIA in 2019 that caused no damage.

Did You Know?

The chances of having a stroke double every 10 years after age 55. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Bruschi created Tedy’s Team in 2005 in partnership with the American Stroke Association to raise awareness about stroke and its symptoms and raise money for research and education. Last year, Tedy’s Team partnered with the MGH Institute of Health Professions to create the Tedy’s Team Center of Excellence in Stroke Recovery.

Actor Emelia Clarke


She played Daenerys Targaryen in the HBO series Game of Thrones, but in February 2011, at just 24, Emelia Clarke experienced excruciating head pain during a workout. At the hospital, it was discovered she’d suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage, bleeding between the brain and the tissue covering the brain. It’s a life-threatening type of stroke.

Clarke told The New Yorker magazine in 2019 that she was hospitalized for a month. However, testing showed a smaller aneurysm on the other side of her brain that would have to be monitored. In 2013, it was discovered that aneurysm doubled in size, and doctors operated. But the operation failed, causing bleeding on her brain. She spent another month in the hospital but has since fully recovered.

Like Bruschi, her experience drove her to do more. She worked with others to establish SameYou, a charity devoted to providing treatment for people who’ve suffered brain injuries and stroke.

Comedian and actor Sinbad


Sinbad, 67, known for stand-up comedy, TV shows such as A Different World, and films including Good Burger, suffered an ischemic stroke in 2020. He was in critical condition, placed in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator.

He had to learn to walk again, but is intent on making it back to performing live.

In a recent Instagram reel, Sinbad thanked everyone who has been praying for him and wishing him well. “It means a lot to me,” he says. “I want to say this to all the people who have emailed me though the website, some of you are going through what I’m going through or even worse than me. I pray for you. I understand what it’s like. It’s rough.”

Actor Sharon Stone

acting props

Stone, 66, perhaps best known for her roles in Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992) and Casino (1995), suffered a brain hemorrhage and stroke in 2001.

She told Brain and Life magazine in 2018 she experienced head pain she likened to a lightning bolt, which knocked her to ground and left her temporarily unconscious.

Her brain bleeding was stopped through a procedure known as an embolization. She has recovered and resumed her acting career.

Penguins star Kris Letang



Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang had two strokes, the first in 2014 at age 26, and the second in 2022. He returned to practice 10 days after the second stroke and continues to play for the team.

Letang has a PFO that may have contributed to the strokes. After his first stroke, at least one media report noted doctors said Letang would not require surgery. It’s not known if he’s undergone any procedure to close the PFO since then.

“I hope that by making my condition public at this time, I can help other people by encouraging them to seek medical help if they experience some of the symptoms associated with a stroke — regardless of their age or general health,” Letang told the Toronto Star in 2014.


Stroke is a medical emergency. This brain attack causes an interruption of blood flow in the brain, which results from either a blood clot or when a blood vessel bursts in the brain. Lehigh Valley Health Network’s stroke team has the experience and resources to help you or a loved one.

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