How sport helped save my life

by wesport getting active

Danny is a 44 year-old male who has used sport to overcome illness both physically and mentally.
Sport wasn't of interest to Danny until he was 14/15 when he started playing rugby. Through the years this lead to an interest in weight training which Danny enjoyed and in his last year of high school he got a gym membership as his Christmas gift. As he moved to different gyms Danny was introduced to a gym partner who he states was “the most dedicated training partner I have known” and who is also one of his closest friends. As Danny improved he entered an amateur bodybuilding contest in Plymouth. He placed third in The Mr West Britain Contest (1995) but as he started to progress more, he was struck with an illness in 1995 that stopped him in his tracks.

Danny was diagnosed with Antiphospholipid Syndrome (Hughes syndrome/APS or ‘sticky blood’) which is an autoimmune condition that causes the blood to clot, and highlighted why he was suffering from mini strokes. This resulted in being put on anticoagulants (thinning the blood) resulting in Danny suffering from fatigue and other side effects which put a stop to his weight training.

 

Danny turned to Jujitsu & Judo instead which he decided wasn’t the best idea on blood thinners as every cut/bruise ended with him being patched up. Then with a tear of two major muscles, one of which needed emergency surgery due to extensive bleeding he had to re think. After a few years of switching between Judo and gym, Danny tried road cycling with a friend who was passionate about it. He did this at full throttle for a number of years.

 

Fast forward to the Christmas of 2012 after a couple of years of personal struggles, mental health issues (depression/anxiety) and sadly a breakdown, Danny put his head to yoga. He states “this was a turning point in discovering myself and my quest to become self-aware & comfortable in my own skin”. Sadly though Danny then came down with what he thought was a bug, however things went from bad to worse. In Danny's words:

"I went to bed on New Year's Eve, woke around 5am (I'm told) to use the toilet whereby I collapsed, I thought I was ok or maybe had too many drinks (despite knowing I hadn't)so I attempted to crawl back to bed on the landing but kept collapsing onto my face as I had no coordination. I remember being very aware of this, my then wife calling an ambulance, it arriving, being carried down the stairs in a chair by the ambulance crew, who I chatted with, into the street where it was freezing cold & dark except for the flashing blue lights.

 

I then have roughly 2-3 months of some memories, other patients, ward events, false memories & bits of information people have told me. During this time I bounced between a neurological ward, high dependency, intensive care unit & a neighbouring hospital. My APS had become an extremely rare Catastrophic type (CAPS) which means several organs are directly impacted in very quick succession and treatment becomes a fine balancing act.

In the main, I suffered a cerebellar haemorrhage (stroke), kidney damage, & adrenal haemorrhage causing me to become adrenal insufficient (Addison's disease).

Day to day things became impossible which left him terrified. Danny was forced to re learn things he had taken for granted most of his life, like sitting up and just having balance. As rehab started, the simplest of tasks like passing a foam rugby ball around the waist was hard. Progression was slow but Danny with his competitive nature, started to use sport to help. Initially, swimming was the focus as he felt safe in the pool, then onto exercise bikes. Danny’s support worker then set him a goal to attend a spinning class within a few months. With balance still an issue, he managed to hit the target and two years on they both still attend the weekly spin session. However, the turning point in Danny’s rehab was Tai Chi. The Lead Psychologist suggested this as he had done it after injuring himself in karate. Danny wasn’t impressed to start with and states, "I remember saying no way was I doing exercise for old people". Nevertheless, after 10 minutes, he was hooked and he still attends now with very noticeable progress and difference in his ability in day to day life. For example when Danny first started he had to stand & lean with his back against the wall as he couldn't stand upright.

Danny also experienced violent twitches that had started when he was at his worst point in the hospital. Almost 4 years on, Danny has learned a part of the tai chi form, his twitching has all but stopped & he has learned so much about himself and becoming much more self-aware. Overall these 3 activities (tai chi, gym, spinning) make Danny 'tick' and keep motivated in life.

Danny realises now how much sport has become his life changer and states:

"Being physically active has given me back a life worth living. During the illnesses, I complained all the time that I'd looked after myself, ate well, kept fit yet this had happened so what was the point? I remember a nurse, probably sick of my complaining, simply said: "ever thought you might not still be here if you hadn't?”

Danny would also like to pass the message on to anyone else in this situation now or that just feels down or lonely that sport has a way of boosting people up, it’s often social and if you stick with it long enough you will learn something about yourself. Never Give Up!

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