David Jacobs can live life like most other soon-to-be 34-year-olds.
“I can get around … able to play with my kids and get some work done,” Jacobs said. “I can do everything I need to do besides play football again.”
Jacobs’ playing days on the football field ended in 2001 after the defensive tackle suffered a major stroke following a University of Georgia football practice prior to a game against Ole Miss.
Now, he’s returning to Athens on Saturday to help raise stroke awareness in St. Mary’s Next Step 5K run/walk, a 3.1-mile race through the UGA campus starting and ending at Stegeman Coliseum.
“This stuff is for real,” said Jacobs, who turns 34 on May 12. “Back in the day, everybody used to think it happened to an older person or couldn’t happen to them, but when it actually happened to them, it was a surprise. This stuff happens every day.”
Having Jacobs on board for the 5K is valuable because his story shows a stroke can happen to anybody, said St. Mary’s stroke coordinator and Next Step 5K chair Joanne Lockamy.
“He’s trying really hard to get out there, to let people know about stroke and the signs and symptoms of stroke,” she said.
St. Mary’s, which has been ranked Georgia’s No. 1 hospital for stroke care by HealthGrades, will offer blood pressure screenings and stroke education at the event.
Stroke is the nation’s leading cause of disability and one of the top four causes of death, according to St. Mary’s. It occurs when blood flow to part of the brain stops.
Symptoms include weakness or numbness, usually on one side of the body; trouble talking or understanding; trouble seeing in one or both eyes and difficulty walking or loss of balance or severe headaches with no known cause. Most stroke patients are 50 or older, she said.
Fast treatment can often prevent severe disability and death. Lockamy said that many patients have had symptoms for a while, but don’t get treatment because they are not sure about the symptoms.
Jacobs felt dizziness during Georgia’s game against Auburn on Nov. 10, 2001, in Athens.
“I just didn’t feel myself,” he said.
During a walk-through in practice four days later, he said a walk-on offensive lineman barely touched him, but his right side went numb.
“When I told them I had to go to the hospital and I wasn’t feeling well, that’s when they started to proceed,” he said.
Jacobs, then 22, had a torn blood vessel in his neck and stopped breathing, but was revived and rushed to St. Mary’s for emergency treatment and spent weeks in the intensive care unit, including at Emory Hospital.
These days he’s an account manager for Academy Mortgage in Atlanta. Jacobs and his wife, Desiree, have two sons — 4-year-old David and 3-year-old Dawson. The whole family will be at the event Saturday.
Jacobs remains much more than just a former player to Georgia coach Mark Richt.
“I love him, man,” Richt said. “Yeah, you better believe it, too. I love them all, but I just got to know him more intimately because of his stroke and kind of living through that with him a little bit.
“We became very close. We have lunch every so often. I’m the godfather of his oldest boy. And I just love how he loves people and how he wants to give back. He’s just a special person.”
Jacobs’ stroke came in his junior season during Richt’s first season in Athens.
“Once anybody goes through adversity, they really find out people that are really on their side,” Jacobs said. “He was big when I went through my stroke. Just knowing me one year, his first year coaching, to have something like that happen, he was still right by my side. That was a guy that I wanted to be the godfather of my son. He’s always teasing me telling me that he wants my first born. He’s saying that for football. I said, ‘OK, he’s going to get my first born then.’”
The Next Step 5K was founded by teacher and stroke survivor Sally Baker in 2011 to encourage physical activity, spread awareness and educate about stroke as well celebrate life and recovery for stroke survivors and their loved ones.
While this is the third year for the Next Step event, it’s the first time it’s a competitive race.
“I figured the best way to get out the message about stroke and stroke awareness was to get more people to come and making it a competitive race would make it larger,” said Lockamy.
About 100 people took part in the event last year, mostly from the Athens area. Lockamy expects about 150 to 200 this year. Walkers and families with strollers are welcome and an easier course will be set up around the coliseum for people with limited mobility or in wheelchairs.