Stricken Bradford Bulls star Adrian Purtell admitted feeling bitter after a heart attack left his career in tatters at the age of just 27 – until discovering an even younger world champion swimmer lost his life in similar circumstances.
Purtell was hospitalised for three days after being taken ill on the team coach returning from their game against Leeds Rhinos at Magic Weekend in May.
The Australian centre, who required surgery to clear a blocked artery, has not played since and will see a specialist in London tomorrow to discover whether he has any future in the sport.
However, talking publicly for the first time about his ordeal, he revealed his initial despair at being sidelined when he should be in the prime of his life.
“For a while I was being a bit selfish and was upset thinking ‘Why me?’” Purtell explained.
“But I guess it’s not unknown. There was the Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba recently and then another guy (Clive Clarke) from Stoke, who had to retire a few years ago.
“A couple of union guys have had it and some others have been unlucky and not survived.
“I was watching the Olympics the other week and heard how last year’s breaststroke world champion died from a heart attack, aged 26.
“I’d never have taken notice of that until now, but it shows it could have happened to anyone.”
Norwegian swimmer Alexander Dale Oen – expected to be a major medal contender at London 2012 – tragically collapsed and died just a few weeks before Purtell’s scare.
With regard to those events after Bradford’s 37-22 loss in sweltering conditions at Manchester, he recalled: “It just went by in a flash. No one really knew what it was. It took everyone by shock.
“I got through the game okay, had a shower, joked around with the boys and felt fine. We went to get a feed maybe 20 minutes after the game and that’s when I felt the heartburn come on.
“The docs thought it was just severe heartburn after the hot conditions and I was dehydrated.
“We never would have thought it was this. But, as we went up the road I just deteriorated, so they made the call to take me to hospital which I’m so glad for.”
Bulls team doctor Donald Young administered a drip on the side of the M62 before the player was dropped off at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and soon moved to Leeds General Infirmary.
Purtell, playing only his 10th game after joining from Penrith Panthers on a three-year deal, added: “The doc’ did a great job and rang mum for me.
“I actually took the easy option and said I couldn’t ring her. With her being on the other side of the world I didn’t want to be the bearer of that news.
“It was probably the last thing she’d expect or want to hear.
“My parents came over for two weeks and she’s been checking up on me ever since.”
Purtell, of course, has been unable to resume playing but has regularly occupied the Bulls’ training ground over the last few months, completing his own light schedule and lending a hand with coach Mick Potter and his staff.
He knows his career is now at a crossroads and said: “I’m expecting the worst, hoping the best when I see this doctor on Wednesday. I have to do an ECG on a bike to see how my heart responds to exercise and will know more after.
“I’ve been pushing myself at training a little bit on the treadmill.
“It’s probably not to the extent I’d have done before and not the same level you’d get to out on the field so it’s hard to tell.
“But I’d love to play again. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Purtell, who thanked all the hospital staff and well-wishers who had supported him, says all players should get screened for heart conditions if at all possible.
But he added: “I don’t think that could have prepared me for this anyway.
“It might just have been a series of unfortunate events – the heat, physical contact – just at that one point in time. It might have been meant to happen. I don’t know.”
He has given little thought to what he might do if the news is as expected admitting: “I’d sort of taken this career for granted.
“I’ve a hundred things going through my head. I could always move home and go to university or I’ve got my personal training certificate but it’s a big world so there’s going to be opportunities.”
During his absence, his club have endured their own problems after being thrown into administration on June 26.
Purtell said: “It’s been hard watching the boys play through this tough time and not being able to help them out.
“They’ve done a great job over these last couple of months and hopefully they’ll still get chance to play in the finals.”
That now looks doubtful with Wakefield Trinity in pole position to claim the final play-off berth.
But the rescued Bulls do have new owners in place following Omar Khan’s intervention. Hopefully, some good fortune will follow Purtell too.