Former College Football Player Makes a Comeback after Stroke Recovery

Patient David Jacobs & the Jacobs FamilyAs a defensive tackle on the University of Georgia’s football team, David Jacobs was at the top of his game, physically and mentally. But in November 2001, everything changed.

Jacobs had been feeling strange all week, even missing two football practices – a rarity for a player with his level of devotion. He’d had headaches and felt dizzy and lethargic. He chalked it up to his demanding schedule and dehydration. Hoping to play in the upcoming Ole Miss game, Jacobs headed back to practice, only to take a particularly hard hit that left the right side of his body numb and tingling – hallmark symptoms of stroke. Just minutes later, Jacobs became unconscious and unresponsive in the training room.

Jacobs was rushed to a local Athens hospital, where diagnostic tests revealed that David would need advanced care for a stroke. He was transported by helicopter to Emory University Hospital, Atlanta’s first Comprehensive Stroke Center. David learned that he’d had an occlusion in his vertebral artery, which serves as a major supplier of blood to the brain. A blood clot followed developed, disrupting blood flow to the brain. When the brain doesn’t receive enough blood, a stroke occurs.

“I went from working hard everyday on the field to having a stroke, just like that,” Jacobs recalls.

At one point, the prognosis was grim. While he was unable to talk, eat or walk, David’s family prayed by his bedside that his condition would improve so that he wouldn’t have to undergo risky surgery. Their prayers were answered.

“I remember that bit by bit, we began to see signs that he was starting to improve,” says Desiree Jacobs, David’s wife, who was his girlfriend at the time of his stroke. “If there’s one thing to know about David, it’s that he’s a fighter, not just on the field, but in all areas of his life. Surviving this was no different for him.”

David spent a month in Emory University Hospital’s Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit. From there, he moved to Emory’s Center for Rehabilitation Medicine, a multidisciplinary center that provides ongoing care for patients who have undergone a stroke or spinal cord injury, or individuals with neurological damage, musculoskeletal problems, pain, amputations and chronic disease. There, he would spend three months learning to walk, eat and do the basic things that used to come so easily to an athlete of his caliber. His care team consisted of physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists, case managers, dietitians, doctors and nurses, all whom had a hand in David’s recovery.

Looking back, of the many things David had learned, listening to his body has been the most essential.

“My body had been warning me that something wasn’t right,” David says. “It’s important to know the signs of stroke, like a sudden severe headache, trouble speaking and numbness so that you can get treatment right away.”

Now nearly 11 years later, David is married with two young sons and works full time as an account manager in the mortgage industry. Tall and athletic, David certainly looks the part of former football player. But, the role he’s most proud of? Stroke survivor. Learn more about David’s journey in the video below:

Read more about David’s story on and UGA’s athletics website.

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  • Ivory D.

    This is a timely reminder that anything can happen to anybody!! May God continue to bless this young man and his family. He is a reminder to us all to not take our health for granted.

    • Emory Healthcare

      You’re absolutely right, Ivory! “He is a reminder to us all, not to take our health for granted.” <-- We couldn't have said it any better!

  • Chris R.

    I am so thankful for this young man’s recovery. I know first hand the seriousness of having a stroke. I had a stroke on July 31, 2009 at approximately 6:15 am. My symptoms included confusion, headache and difficulty writing and speaking. Because I was somewhat familiar with some of the symptoms, along with a quiet voice in my spirit, I realized what was happening. A blood clot had traveled from my leg and lodged in my brain. I was in intensive care for several days with an uncertain outcome. Through prayer, the outstanding medical team and staff at Emory University, and my family, I was able to come home in 5 days. I underwent speech therapy and have just a slight/slight speech deficit. One of my doctors told me that “someone” shined a light on you”. (We all know WHO that “someone” is). I am so thankful to share my testimony.

    • Emory Healthcare

      Chris, what a WONDERFUL testimony! We’re thankful that you’re OK and successfully recovering.

  • Kimberly Lawson Garner

    I will NEVER forget this day, November 12th, 2001…my husband, Rodney Garner was David’s position coach at UGA. Earlier that day, i had given birth to our 3rd daughter at St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens. Rodney was there for Jaiden’s birth, he stayed for a few hours then went back to work for meetings and practice that evening. That night, he returned to the hospital earlier than i expected and came in my room pretty upset. I could tell he had been crying and i immediately thought something was wrong with the baby. He could barely get it out…”Kim, it’s not the baby, it’s DJ…he’s upstairs…he had a stroke at practice…we need to pray…it doesn’t look good”. I remember thinking, “DJ, who? You CAN’T be talking about David Jacobs…he’s too young, too fit…old, sick people have strokes…NOT big, healthy kids!” I couldn’t wrap my head around it until i saw DJ for myself…so we grabbed my IV pole and went straight to DJ’s ICU room upstairs…and there he was in that dark room hooked up to a LOT of machines. The room was crowded with doctors and nurses…but over in the corner by DJs bed I spotted his girlfriend, Desiree. She rarely left his side that entire time in the hospital and thru rehab. I remember DJs whole side was obviously paralyzed, and he said his head was still hurting, but he STILL had jokes about me not cooking Thanksgiving dinner, LOL! Remarkably, DJ was able to go to the UGA Football Senior Awards Gala about a month later…by the grace of God he walked across that stage with a little assistance. The team and coaches had made him the first recipient of an award named after him and his determination, strength and courage to recover.Thank God for the doctors, nurses and therapists at St. Mary’s, Emory and the Sheppard Center. Our family will always remember TWO miracles on November 12th…we are so happy and proud to see the man, father and husband David has become. Continued Blessings to Desiree, DJ and their boys!
    Love Y’all!
    Coach G, Kim and the Girlz