By Rory Reynolds
FORMER Scotland midfielder Eoin Jess says he is to be “patched up like a tyre” after doctors found he had been living with a potentially fatal hole in his heart for nearly 40 years.
The former Aberdeen striker, who suffered a stroke at just 38, is to undergo surgery for a condition that could have paralysed or killed him at any time.
Just over a year ago the 39-year-old’s mouth drooped and his speech slurred after simply bending down to pick up a sock.
Speaking before an operation to repair the hole later this month, Jess said that the support and message from fans had given him a boost following his terrifying ordeal.
He said: “It gave me strength to know that people out there care, that you have touched them somehow with your football.
“I had 11 great years with Aberdeen, and everyone knows how I feel about the club. To know that you’ve entertained people, and that you’re still respected up there … it’s really, really nice.”
Jess – who was capped 18 times for Scotland – said that he was lucky that the problem didn’t affect his playing career, and that many fellow suffers go through life without having a stroke like he did.
In 1971 Asa Hartford’s career was affected when doctors discovered a hole in his heart while Dundee United player Danny Swanson had to undergo a scan before he was allowed to play in the SPL.
He said: “Things have changed now, but in all my medicals, I never actually had a heart scan.”
“If I had, maybe my clubs wouldn’t have taken a chance on me, and my career could have been completely different.
“A lot of people out there probably have a hole in their heart, and go through life without having any problems, but I was unlucky in that it caused my stroke. It’s not so much a hole as a little flap really.
“A sneeze or a cough can open it, blood flows out and it forms a clot. If it is open for too long, blood goes to places it shouldn’t be going.
“I have to look upon myself as a bit lucky, some people have strokes that cause paralysis or even death, but it doesn’t seem to have affected me.”
Since the stroke Jess says that he has refocused his career and energy on his new role as assistant manager with Nottingham Forest’s youth academy, and made him reassess some of the things in his life.
He added: “It put things into perspective, made me realise that you’re not on this planet for long.
“You have to live as best you can.”