Belfast Telegraph

Nightmare injury gave me all new perspective, says Suarez

By Graham Luney

Some battles are more important than others. Crusaders' new signing Mikel Suarez shares the same desire to win as any footballer but he sees the game through different eyes.

The 30-year-old is merely happy to be playing the game he loves as he still carries the emotional scars of a horrific incident which put him in a coma for six days in 2012.

When Hull City's Ryan Mason suffered a fractured skull last month, it brought back harrowing memories for the man from Bilbao. While playing for Tonbridge Angels against Farnborough in a Blue Square South game, a clash of heads with a team-mate sparked a nightmare which he can never erase from his memory.

"I can remember the pain when the clash happened in October 2012," said big Athletic Bilbao fan Suarez. "I couldn't play on, was taken to the changing room but I was sick and suffered concussion.

"I started having convulsions as I arrived at the hospital and on the Saturday evening I was put into a medically induced coma. They probably expected me to come around on Sunday but I didn't awaken from it until the following Friday, a long time.

"There were two fractures in my eye socket. I needed to regain weight, strength and let it heal. The worst aspect of it all for me was the drugs I was given. I can't remember being in constant pain but the side effects from the drugs were terrible.

"I was hallucinating and even thinking someone was out to kill me. It must have been disturbing to watch but my dad, being a doctor, understood what was happening.

"I carry with me the memories, particularly the awful side effects of the drugs, but I also know things could have been much worse. I was unlucky and lucky at the same time.

"I don't go looking for stories like the Ryan Mason incident but when something like that happens or I see someone with a head injury in hospital, it does give me a reminder of what I went through."

While Suarez was being attended to by medics at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey, his family braced themselves for an anxious wait. The 6ft 3in striker had only just started a relationship with his German girlfriend Hannah when the family was forced to unite at a traumatic time.

"At that time my relationship with Hannah was only four or five weeks old and it was the first time she met my family, not the best of circumstances," said Suarez.

"But the support from her and my family really helped my recovery. I didn't get depressed, I thought I'm in this situation and I have to recover.

"It was a traumatic time for my family. I was unaware of what was going on but they understood the seriousness of the injury. It was awful for them to watch. My dad didn't say a lot about the injury but I know my mum worries and she will probably be happy when I stop playing football.

"The support I had from the club, the fans and also my university was fantastic, overwhelming really.

"I returned to football four months later. I didn't want to leave it too long or more doubts would creep in. The club were great and of course I was nervous about the first few challenges but that's gone now.

"I know there has been a lot of criticism of the NHS but when I really needed it they looked after me. I was told there was no risk to my health if I started playing again so I was happy with that, I never thought about quitting."

Mikel's father Javier is Spanish while his mum Mary is from England where the couple married.

All three boys in the Suarez household came to England to study with John (31) working for a market research agency in Barkshire and Nicholas (26) working as a care assistant and studying nursing in Norwich.

Mikel opted for a chemistry degree at Loughborough University and moved to London. As well as graduating with the degree, he completed a Masters in Management.

He's just embarked on a five-year medicine course at Queen's University and he's currently living on campus.

"Medicine is something I wanted to do for a good while," he said. "I've volunteered for charity work and also worked at a hospital in Spain. Hopefully I can become a doctor based in a hospital one day.

"It's a five-year degree but it's an investment in my future.

"Perhaps on a subconscious level what happened to me hasn't put me off wanting a career in medicine, if I can share my experience with others and it helps them then that would be great. My father is a doctor so he's quietly happy that I'm studying medicine.

"I'm enjoying my studies as well but it's a new experience. I'm living in one of the flats at the university and I travelled to Northern Ireland alone.

"My girlfriend Hannah lives in London so we are apart for long periods but we have been together for four years.

"I played football at school in Bilbao and at youth level before moving to England.

"Both my parents and my girlfriend have always been very supportive of my decisions and have understood that football and studying has been important to me."

Suarez's football career in England featured spells at Boston United, Tonbridge Angels, Dartford and then Bishop's Stortford.

The degree at Queen's has allowed him to link up with Danske Bank Premiership champions Crusaders and from now until the end of the season it will be a getting to know you period for both parties.

"I'm really enjoying it," added Suarez. "From the players to management and fans they are very nice people and it's a great club. We will just have to see how things pan out. I had been training for a while but the manager (Stephen Baxter) will need to see me play games and hopefully I can play more and get stronger.

"I must be honest and say I didn't know a lot about football here but it's a good standard and since I've moved here I've studied it a lot more. Crusaders are also the league champions and that makes the challenge more interesting.

"However, you can't always rely on football, hopefully I'll get a chance to do well."

But the Crues, who host Ballymena United this afternoon, will do well to steal Suarez's heart. "We are all big fans of Athletic Bilbao," he added. "My dad has a season ticket and when we go home there's a mad scramble for tickets."

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