Doctors have told Wallabies great Michael Lynagh he “dodged a cannonball” after surviving a rare and potentially-lethal stroke which has severely limited his vision.
An emotional Lynagh fought back tears on Wednesday as he thanked family, friends, the rugby fraternity and fans for the overwhelming support he’d received after being discharged from the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.
The London-based former Test captain, one of the Wallabies’ best playmakers, suffered a massive stroke on April 16 shortly after arriving back in Brisbane to catch up with friends.
A split wall in an artery in the back, right-hand side of his neck caused the stroke which neurologist Dr Rob Henderson said was rare in a fit person of Lynagh’s 48 years but often fatal.
Dr Henderson said fluid around the brain stem in the days after the stroke had specialists on the verge of taking out some of the skull bone to reduce swelling.
Speaking clearly and coherently and looking as strong as ever, Lynagh admitted he was finding it hard to cope with the 45 per cent lack of sight on his left side but was extremely relieved with his early rehabilitation.
“I understand how lucky I am,” he said. “I’m just very, very fortunate.
“As Rob said to me, ‘you haven’t just dodged a bullet – you’ve dodged a cannonball’.”
The stroke hit at the end of a long day when Lynagh had flown in from Singapore, played a round of golf and then was enjoying the last of four light beers at 9pm at a Brisbane hotel.
He choked as he laughed at a funny story told by a mate.
“When I finished that, I opened my eyes and couldn’t see,” he told a packed media conference. “I could see light and shapes but couldn’t focus. I tried to shake my head and clear it and it got worse.”
Dr Henderson said there was no evidence that Lynagh’s top-line senior rugby career over 16 years had prompted the stroke, but said the coordination that saw him excel at rugby had helped him recover so well.
However, the doctor admitted Lynagh’s full vision might never return.
“He’s otherwise done very well,” Dr Henderson said. “The coordination is the amazing thing. Our scans would suggest that he really shouldn’t have great coordination.
“Once (the stroke) starts happening, you really can’t stop it. It’s like a steam train.
“The lining splits, the clot forms, the clot goes – and that all happens in just a matter of seconds. It’s a very dramatic thing.”
Lynagh, who will continue therapy in Brisbane for the next three weeks, said he hoped he could be a role model for other stroke victims.
The 72-Test five-eighth admitted he was extremely lucky the stroke occurred when and where it did, even though it has kept him halfway around the world from his wife Isabella and sons Louis, 11, Thomas, 9, and Nic, 5.
“It was a perfect storm for it to happen but everything after was also perfect,” he said.
“Rob and his team played a pretty good game, I think.”