Former Blues midfielder Matt Johnson is battling for his life after open heart surgery.
According to the Stuff website, rheumatic fever nearly claimed his life at 13, yet he showed a decade of fight to win a Melbourne Storm rugby league contract, then one with the Blues in Super Rugby.
Now its effects have struck again.
Johnson has a lengthy scar down the centre of his chest as a constant reminder of what he has faced and is facing again. He is in intensive care.
Now 26, the Manurewa-raised footballer has already had two heart operations.
His Melbourne Storm days were cut short by the club after nine months due to his heart condition.
Nine months into a two-year-deal, the club sat him down and told him they’d reassessed the risk posed by his heart condition - and it wasn’t one the club was comfortable with, Newsroom reported.
He was, he was told, being released on medical grounds.
An outstanding 2017 provincial season for Southland won him a 2018 contract with the Blues, but his condition prevented him playing for the side.
It has been 13 years since a cardiologist found his heart was twice the size it should have been.
Rheumatic fever, attacks the heart’s valves. A leaking valve meant the heart was not draining blood properly, so it enlarged. Johnson received an aortic valve replacement from a 22-year-old donor who had died in a car accident.
Once he'd returned from Melbourne, Johnson won his way into the Southlands Stags, Northland and the Blues.
Then another red light.
“I then had my annual check-up - and they found there was a leakage again. That was unexpected. I was hoping I would have 15 years from the first [valve]. But it was cut down short to 10.”
The reason was almost certainly the additional workload the demands of professional rugby placed on the valve.
Johnson's fiancée, Sky Sport commentator, presenter and rugby player Taylah Hodson-Tomokino, outlined the path to Johnson being placed in an induced coma.
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Hi friends & family, I thought I would write this so you understand what Matty is going through and how we got here. Nine weeks ago, Matty started getting fevers and stomach pains. After going to his GP, they couldn’t find anything wrong. Weeks went by and his symptoms were coming & going. Two weeks ago, we went to the Hospital after Matty was shivering uncontrollably and had stomach pains. They told him he was probably just “blocked up” and gave him laxatives. They had no reason to believe it was his heart as he passed all the usual tests: ECG’s, Echo tests etc. His heart was in perfect working condition and his Aortic Valve that was replaced in 2018 was more or less perfect. The fevers didn’t stop and last week an infection was found in his blood. A Transoesophageal Echocardiography was done, just to double check his heart. Unfortunately, a vegetation was seen growing on his valve as a result of the infection. The medical term is Endocarditis. Furthermore, a CT scan was done. The first came up clear and we were hopeful it could be treated with antibiotics. A second CT scan was done and it was revealed that the vegetation had caused a huge abscess over his Left Ventricular Outflow Tract (LVOT). The abscess had also formed a hole on the LVOT so surgery was his only option. Bits and pieces of the vegetation on his valve were breaking off every time his heart was beating. Fragments of it had reached his kidneys which is why he had the stomach pains and the doctors feared it would reach his brain and cause a stroke. If the abscess burst, it would have sent him in to septic shock. If we didn’t operate, it would prove fatal, so we were left with no choice. At 7am on Tuesday 2nd June, Matty went in to surgery. The surgeons were able to drain the abscess on the LVOT, fix the hole, replace the diseased valve and perform grafts to widen his coronary arteries. At 2pm they tried to take him off the bypass machine, however, his heart wouldn’t start. They then operated again and did as much as they could. The left chambers in his heart were working great, but the right was weak. They tried multiple times to get him off the bypass but they were unable to. (Continued)