Ulster star Chris Henry has opened up on the shock of suffering a stoke on the morning of Ireland’s 2015 November Test against South Africa in Dublin.
Henry, who has made 182 appearances for Ulster, says that the mini-stroke — a transient ischemic attack — left him unable to talk, and was a “scary time”.
“It was one of the biggest shocks for me,” said Henry. “I woke up feeling good, getting ready to get stuck into the match. I went into the bathroom put water on my face and my left arm and left side of my face both dropped, and I lost all my speech. I mumbled to roommate Rhys Ruddock who knew there was something seriously wrong and he sprinted down and got the doctors. Luckily after four or five minutes my strength came back.
“Rugby was definitely on the back-burner. Scary time, but luckily I had great medical assistance. I was quickly into hospital in Dublin for four days, and they found that I had a hole in the heart. It meant that the clot went into the heart instead of being cleared out through the lungs and it went up into the brain.
“I had a procedure to close the hole in the heart, and then it was not whether it was going to happen again, to when will I get back onto the pitch,” explained Henry who made his comeback the following March as a replacement.
“I was thrown back in really quickly and played against Cardiff at home.
“That feeling of getting back, the support and noise of all the fans when I came off the bench is something that I will always cherish. For me, I feel very lucky I can still do what I love, that I can still play and have no lasting side effects from it,” said Henry who still hopes to play for a few more years, but already earmarking a coaching career after helping Malone gain promotion this season to Division 1B of the Ulster Bank League.
Henry made 24 appearances for Ireland but his debut was tinged with so much sadness owing to the death of his rugby-mad father Willie from cancer in 2009.
Henry made an explosive start to his Ulster career against Harlequins in 2009 at Ravenhill and came to the attention of then Ireland head coach Declan Kidney but four weeks before the summer tour to Australia, Henry’s life was turned upside down.
“To be honest my goal was to play for Ulster, and I never thought I would have a chance to play for Ireland. But the way I got my first Ireland cap was surreal when I lost my father when he passed away in May.
"My father would have wanted us to stick to our normal routine and my mum encouraged that. So the best thing for me was to get back in the team environment and among friends. Four weeks later I was on the other side of the world on the Ireland tour,” said Henry who was also part of Ireland’s Six Nations Championship winning team in 2014, Brian O’Driscoll’s final international match.
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