London cricketer, 26, hits heart surgery for six
A London cricketer, who was told he potentially had just months to live, has recovered from open heart surgery and is back playing the sport he loves.
Murtaza Abbas, 26, developed endocarditis – a rare and potentially fatal heart condition which affects one in 3,000 people – after suffering what doctors initially thought was just the flu.
The Loughborough University graduate became increasingly alarmed by his symptoms, which included swings in temperature, severe leg pain and headaches, and pushed for a referral.
“My health problems came out of the blue,” he said. “I had general virus symptoms but they went on for several weeks without anything being done about it.
“I had a handful of appointments with GP’s but it felt like no-one was taking it seriously. I knew I wasn’t right and knew something had to be done. One morning I woke up with searing pain in my right leg, I literally couldn’t walk, that was the final straw.”
After visiting a consultant at Blackheath Hospital, Murtaza was immediately admitted to Beckenham’s Sloane Hospital and, although the cause of his illness remained unknown, he was put on intravenous antibiotics.
Over the following two weeks Murtaza, who was born in Sidcup, received several tests, including an MRI scan, an ultrasound and an ECG. A cardiac echo revealed bacteria had attached to his aortic valve, creating ‘vegetations’ which were dangling off his heart.
“It was tough to hear I had infective endocarditis,” the former Eltham College pupil recalled. “Part of me that thought the antibiotics would clear it up and I wouldn’t need surgery.
“But it was worse than we thought and if vegetations fell off I was either going to die or have a severe stroke. I was told that without the emergency valve operation I would have a couple of months to live.
“It didn’t really sink in as it escalated so quickly but of course I was scared.”
Murtaza chose to replace his faulty valve with a mechanical valve rather than a tissue one, meaning he would be on warfarin – medicine that prevents blood from clotting – indefinitely.
The popular notion is that warfarin-users cannot play competitive sport because the medicine makes bleeding when injured far more likely, and Murtaza admitted he was unsure whether he would be able to play cricket after surgery.
“I was taken to King’s College for the operation and I remember a nurse saying: ‘you’ll never play cricket again’. I just broke down.
“At that moment it hit home that this was a serious operation and my life and lifestyle was on the line.
“I was very emotional on the morning of the operation; I remember being wheeled down to theatre, I tried to keep calm but there was all sorts running through my mind.”I was told that without the valve operation I would have a month or so to live”
After a successful four hour operation on Good Friday, Murtaza recovered in intensive care before being moved to a ward.
“I remember coming back around and seeing my Dad walk in, I gave him the thumbs up and my girlfriend, Katy, was smiling – that was a special moment.
“My surgeon and cardiologist told me my heart was in great shape, that the operation had gone well and that I could play cricket again, I just have to be more careful now.
“There aren’t many people who play sport on warfarin so hopefully I can be an example to people in similar situations that normality can be restored even after heart surgery.”
Murtaza completed his cardiac rehab in just four weeks and, remarkably, played his first game back for Bexley Cricket Club just ten weeks after his life-threatening surgery, hitting 36 and taking 3 wickets.
And although the 26-year-old has been forced to make some life-changing adjustments, he now feels better than ever and wants to raise awareness about cardiac risk in younger people.
“Walking out to bat for the first time post-surgery was amazing and very emotional,” he said. “Two months ago I didn’t think I would experience that ever again.
“The last few months have put everything into perspective and made me focus on what’s important in life. You have occasional negative thoughts, especially thinking ‘why me’? But I don’t let it get to me; if you do then you’re losing.
“My main drive now is to spread awareness about heart problems affecting young people and hopefully inspire others who experience similar problems.”
Murtaza's girlfriend, Katy, is running the London Marathon for the staff at King's College Hospital. You can donate here.