Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby World Cup

Revitalised Chris Henry now focusing on a healthy future

By David Kelly

Chris Henry is desperately longing for that moment in his career when people start talking about his future, not his past.

When he can tell everyone about how much he is forcing himself to get enough out of his game to thrive, rather than being forced to get out of the game just to survive.

He is 30 now and finally, he hopes, can blissfully expound about how his rugby playing time is limited without unwittingly harking back to the literally life-changing events of last November.

Then, he suffered a mini-stroke on the morning of the Test match against South Africa which caused him to lose all strength down one side of his body.

For all the world, it felt like a pain in the head; in reality, it was a hole in the heart.

He suffered a Transient Ischaemic Attack because the hitherto undetected hole in his heart had led to a blocked blood vessel in his brain.

One in four of you reading this will also have a hole in the heart; mercifully, it can accompany an otherwise healthy life.

The fact that Henry was a professional athlete, one who punishingly pushed himself to limits beyond normally accepted human endurance, meant he was receiving expert medical assistance immediately.

As much as he keeps trying to put it behind him, he still knows just how lucky he was.

Sport may have imperilled his life, but it also saved it.

"I was speaking to a woman from Belfast who experienced a similar thing when she was driving," recalls Henry. "She was terrified. She could have hit anyone. Her left arm dropped and she had a headache. She had to freewheel the car.

"She didn't know what was going on. Her feeling didn't come back for 24 or 28 hours.

"I remember chatting to Simon Best (the Ireland prop whose career-ending heart issue emerged during a World Cup, in 2007) and his feeling didn't come back for anything up to five days, I'm not exactly sure. For me, it was very short and intense. Four minutes. And everything came back to me, my strength and my speech.

"It is amazing, I never thought I would be talking to anyone about these sorts of things, especially so young. If I wasn't a sports person, if I wasn't in this environment, if it wasn't the morning of a test ... what a scary experience it was.

"But it would have been magnified because I wouldn't have had (team doctor) Eanna Falvey in my room in four minutes.

"That is the bottom line. I was in the hospital in 45 minutes and they were doing the tests. I know I am very lucky in that regard."

And yet, as much as there is an obviously public, at times voyeuristic interest in such a near-death experience, Henry is just keen on getting busy living.

He wants to regain an appreciation of his standalone abilities as a rugby player without it being viewed through the prism of that dramatic day in November.

"Look, as time goes on hopefully it is something I'll never forget but I definitely hope that you guys forget it.

"It's amazing how your targets change as a player. As players, having chats with Richardt Strauss who obviously had something similar to me, no matter if it's sickness or injury, once you get back to the top level you want more and more.

"As far as I'm concerned it's been talked about enough and hopefully there is more to talk about with rugby than sickness.

"It's a long time ago now. As I said, once you get past these things, time is a great healer. I'm 100 per cent fit.

"Four years ago I was in the training squad but I wasn't near making the plane. I do feel like it's a second chance for me."

He is raring to go; he came on last Saturday and was arguably too eager, almost immediately returning to the bench after conceding a silly yellow card which, predictably, earned the wrath of Joe Schmidt.

"A few years ago, I would have given away a few penalties with Ulster but no, especially under Joe, you have to be squeaky clean," he says.

"Back-rowers, we live on the edge. It's part of my game, I want to get on that ball.

"The whole squad knows that there isn't going to be that much rugby coming for us, there is limited time, every second counts."

After all he has experienced, Henry knows that more than anybody.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph