A “probable stroke” during a Premiership match in January left Will Hurrell suffering from anxiety, memory loss and panic attacks – and meant retiring from rugby union was the only decision he could take.
On medical advice, the 30-year-old Bristol Bears centre formally ended his playing career earlier in April and, speaking to the BBC, he revealed how difficult that news was to relay to his team-mates over a video conference call, coming during the nationwide lockdown.
Popular with fans, Hurrell took pride in throwing his full weight into every tackle and putting his body on the line for the team – something he epitomised by trying to play on after suffering the “nasty knock” against Leicester Tigers.
“I’ve watched back videos of it. It was classic me, wanting to get on with the game,” he told BBC Radio Bristol.
“I’ve always taken a more direct approach. Unfortunately, I’ve tried to nail a 120kg second row and it’s backfired a little bit, but that’s the way I play.
“Straight after the game, I started throwing up. My speech completely went. I couldn’t speak. I’d passed out, fainted a couple of times and I got rushed to A&E.
“With this injury, the likelihood of it happening again is obviously very high because of the way I play, so that’s left me with only one decision really. The specialist pretty much said if I play again and get another knock, I’m going to end up in a wheelchair.”
‘It messes up the way your brain works’
That is why, despite making an encouragingly steady recovery thus far, he has hung up his boots, ending with 68 appearances in four seasons with Bristol, after a career that has also included spells at Leicester, London Welsh and Doncaster.
“It’s been tough,” added Hurrell. “I did a video conference with the team to tell them I was retiring. The comments I’ve had and the messages have been outstanding, but it’s been tough.
“I started having panic attacks after the hit at the start of January. Now as a result of this brain knock, it sort of messes up the way your brain works and from that I was getting anxiety.
“I had to stay with my parents for a month. I couldn’t really be on my own. I was having anxiety, headaches, vision issues, speech issues, and my memory has been atrocious.
“All those others have cleared up a little bit and it’s just the memory issue, but I’m just working as hard as I can to get back to where I was before.
“I went to see a brain specialist, a neurosurgeon at Southmead Hospital (in Bristol). She said I’d severed my main artery to my frontal lobe at the back of my head.
“She’d actually never seen this injury before in an adult. It’s almost like whiplash – she described it as the back of my brain bashing into the back of my skull – which caused that main artery to rupture.”
‘I’ve already had some job offers’
However, Hurrell’s injuries are treatable and the signs have been encouraging.
“The club have been really good, they’ve put me in touch with a neuroscientist who rehabs the brain, to get it strong again,” he continued.
“I did pretty poorly in some of the memory tests so that’s something for me to work on moving forward.”
And moving forward is something the Leicester-born 6ft 1in (1.86m) back is determined to do, including a possible future on the touchline.
“I’ve had a boatload of help and support,” he said. “I’ve done my coaching qualifications. I’ve already had some job offers which has been lovely. I’m keeping my options open, and don’t want to jump into anything too quick.
“I would love to coach, it’s just whether that’s part-time plus work or whether that’s full-time. It depends what comes up. There are lots of different options for me. I’m quite lucky.
“Bristol and the Rugby Players’ Association have been absolutely fantastic. They’ve really done everything they can to help me. They’re a real credit to Premiership rugby.”