Konrad Plewa remembers the moment well, the moment where he thought that a recent stroke would change his life and end his promising soccer career.
It was Sunday, July 31.
The New York Red Bulls USL team (their minor league affiliate, aptly named New York Red Bulls II) had a game the Saturday night before, getting in around 3 A.M. after a long bus trip. Plewa started and played the full match in the center of defense, nothing drastic for a player who is a regular in their lineup. He remembers waking up late that Sunday morning, making some coffee and then sitting down in front of the television to relax. Then he grabbed the television remote with his left hand, putting it down and then reaching for it again a few moments later with his right hand.
But he wasn’t able to.
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“At first I thought I had slept on it wrong,” Plewa told Metro. He couldn’t move his right arm. No immediate cause for alarm.
“Then I couldn’t move my right leg. I didn’t panic, I didn’t make a big deal of it. I was thinking that my parents would come home soon and they could take me upstairs and I could sleep it off.”
So he sat and sat, watching the television and not thinking about it much. He was trying to treat it like a typical day after a game.
After sitting on the sofa for nearly an hour while waiting for his parents to return home, Plewa eventually decided to finally call his mother. Upon standing up he immediately collapsed.
He managed to call his mother but could only mumble, unable to speak. His parents rushed home to find him sprawled out on their floor, unable to talk let alone move.
An ambulance came and rushed Plewa to the hospital and very quickly he was diagnosed with a blood clot in his brain. Within hours after the operation he had full mobility of his full body.
His first words were “Am I able to play soccer again?”
There was no prior history for Plewa of strokes or even cause for concern. His late grandfather had several strokes but none until much later in life. Here he was, a 24-year old in the prime of his life and a professional athlete on top of that. Things like a stroke simply don’t happen.
Especially not to a former college athlete with some 40-odd appearances of professional soccer over the past two seasons.
“It was mind boggling for all of us,” Plewa said on Wednesday, just minutes after practicing with the first team.
“I still have to meet with cardiologists. I have a loop recorder in my chest. After speaking with the doctor, turns out in my bloodwork that there is a thing called Protein S which helps to fight blood clots. And mine appears to be on the lower side. I think the combination of dehydration, being up all night on the bus, it all came together.”
Protein S, it turns out, is a pivotal part of the human body’s function. According to an article published by the University of Colorado-Denver:
“Protein S is a protein that prevents clotting (an anticoagulant), and requires vitamin K for its production and works with Protein C. The function of protein S is to stop the action of two activated clotting proteins named factor V and factor VIII. If there is not enough (deficiency) of the Protein S, these clotting proteins remain activated increased the tendency for blood to clot.”
And it is a genetic condition, handed down through the generations or can happen through a Vitamin K deficiency. It was scary stuff for Plewa who simply is happy to be back playing soccer, saying that “God had to be watching out for me.”
Life is pretty normal now, other than “drinking like a horse…water that is.” He hopes that drinking as much water as he now does will stave off some of the triggers for another stroke.
The return to the field is perhaps sooner than anyone anticipated.
He received a phone call on Monday, on the way to the team’s training facility, saying that the blood work cleared him to return to training. Nerves set in before his return to practice but his teammates on the USL squad treated him like it was any training session, even razzing him for a bad pass in a small-sided game.
“Just like they always do,” Plewa said.
Words he wasn’t sure he’d ever say again about a game he wasn’t sure he’d ever play again.