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Chris Henry: What was once life-threatening is now regarded as a routine op

By Stuart McKinley

No sportsman has ever been happier to be told to get on his bike than Ulster rugby star Chris Henry.

Ten days after it was first revealed that Henry was undergoing tests after it was discovered that he had a heart problem - and less than a week after Ulster Rugby announced that the 30-year-old had undergone treatment - he was back in light training yesterday.

His rapid return has astounded many fans, but medical experts will be content with seeing Henry's progress going exactly as it should.

The exact issue that caused Henry to initially suffer from sickness caused by a temporary blockage of a small blood vessel in his brain is linked directly to his heart - something that specialists will have instantly been aware of.

The specific problem, however, has been kept under wraps by Ulster, aside from it being revealed that last week's procedure was to 'repair a defect in his heart wall'.

Described in layman's terms as a 'hole in the heart', what Henry is believed to have suffered from is a ventricular septal defect (VSD). A congenital condition, a VSD is a small pin-hole between the chambers of the heart that allows a tiny amount of blood to seep through between the left and right ventricles, with oxygenated and non-oxygenated blood then becoming mixed.

VSDs can go unnoticed in many adults. The problem only becomes apparent in many cases if, like Henry, there is a further issue, such as the blocked blood vessel.

In children many heal without medical intervention being required as the child grows. With Henry, because he is now in adulthood and his heart is fully grown, the minor surgery was required.

No heart procedure can every be described as routine or straightforward, but the course of action to repair a VSD and similar type conditions is, relatively speaking, a minor one nowadays thanks to medical advances.

It is carried out via a cardiac catheter.

A small tube, around 4mm in diameter, is inserted into one of the main arteries through the groin with the hole being 'patched'.

Henry's situation is very similar, if not identical, to that which former Scotland international Asa Hartford found himself in over 30 years ago. He was on the brink of a £177,000 move from West Brom to Leeds United before it was called off just hours before he was due to make his debut for the club when it was discovered he had a heart problem.

Hartford saw a specialist within 48 hours of Leeds pulling the plug his move, had a procedure carried out the hole in his heart the following day, trained two days later and was back in the West Brom team after less than a fortnight.

Ulster haven't put a time-frame on Henry's return. The fact that he is back on a bike is simply the first step, yet it is a significant one.

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