LONDON – Former Stormers flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis has revealed that he feared for his life after suffering a frightening throat injury in a freak accident while in action for English club Harlequins last September.
Catrakilis recently made a returned to action when he featured off the bench in Harlequins' defeat to Newcastle, with that appearance signifying an immense achievement for the 28-year-old.
The flyhalf had previously been sidelined for several months after sustaining a "life-threatening" injury when he was accidentally struck in the throat by the shoulder of Gloucester’s Andy Symons, which saw him having to be taken from the field with an oxygen mask to assist his breathing.
Fighting against the rapid swelling of his throat, Catrakilis told the Evening Standard newspaper that it had become an extremely scary situation as he was raced to hospital.
"To get back to playing you have to overcome quite a few negative thoughts, and injuries can happen to any part of your body. This has changed my perception of life because there was a stage when I didn’t know if I was going to survive."
Catrakilis was eventually stabilised in hospital, but he couldn't speak for a week after the injury, and there were very real fears that he would not be able to play professional sport again due to concerns over his breathing.
However, a piece of cartilage was cleared away and then the throat naturally healed to enable Catrakilis to breathe normally, while he has been working closely with a speech therapist.
"When I was injured I tried to find anyone who had suffered a similar injury and couldn’t find anything," he recounted. "Even world-renowned doctors who deal with thousands of throats had never seen anything like it. I needed specialist help and had three doctors – one doing the operation, one dealing with the airway and another my speech – and worked with them every week.
"It wasn’t certain that I would be able to play again and once they worked out why the throat had swollen up so much, it was a question of would I, in the future, be able to breathe well enough and speak to play sport."
Now that he is finally back in action, Catrakilis says he simply wants to make the most of every opportunity.
"Playing is so special and now it is about getting the club up the table."