Tom Wood in action for Wales U18.

Hockey Star Tom Wood And A Christmas Blesssing Story To Warm The Heart

Cardiff and Met Hockey Club’s Tom Wood will count his blessings this Christmas after recovering from an extremely rare brain condition.  A blocked artery put his life in danger, but it was his high fitness levels that saved him . . . as Cari Morris reports.

Having narrowly missed out on the selection for the Wales hockey team that competed at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games earlier this year, 20-year-old Tom Wood suddenly found his disappointment brought into sharp perspective when he suffered a life-threatening health issue.

On Thursday 9 August 2018, Tom had finished his third training session of the week and was on his hour-long journey home with his mother Tracey.

He had a headache, but thought nothing of it. Just five minutes away from his house, dizziness kicked in leaving Tom disorientated.

Tom describes: “I got out of the car but couldn’t walk. I lay on the floor and lost feeling in my arms and legs, so mum rushed me to hospital.”

After being unconscious for 12 hours, Tom woke up in a bed in Prince Charles Hospital, Merthyr Tydfil. Tests showed that he had suffered a narrowed artery in the brain which had restricted blood flow to this vital organ – a condition that almost cost him his life.

The doctor listed the factors that can cause this; obesity, poor diet, smoking, genetic deposition and even recreation.

Tom explains: “The constant twisting of hockey can cause the neural plate to hit an artery making it smaller over-time.

“It is still not 100% certain that this was the cause, but it is the most probable explanation.

“The doctor has only seen this happen to three people; me, a rugby player and a golfer.”

 

A major factor which helped him survive was his incredible fitness and physical health. Top level hockey requires an exceptional standard of endurance.

Tom has a resting heart rate of 42 beats per minute – his body can operate on low levels of oxygen being carried around his body, conditions similar to those he experienced during the incident. His physical fitness essentially helped save his life.

“Before, I used to enjoy playing and I understood how import each training session was, but now this has reinforced my understanding of how lucky I was to be playing hockey six days a week.”

With no surgery or treatment for this condition, the doctors monitored Tom’s progress in hospital closely. Unable to walk for the first three days, the recovery process was challenging – although Tom remained optimistic. “They had a good menu”, he laughed, “smoked salmon every day!”

As the days passed, Tom continued to feel extremely weak, to the point that everyday tasks were a struggle. “It was so scary, I picked up a cup of tea and I couldn’t hold it. I wasn’t strong enough”, he reflected.

Tom was determined to improve. Describing himself as a ‘Hockey Geek’, Tom explained that even when confined to bed he did everything he could to continue progressing his hockey career.

“I’ve learnt a lot from just sitting and watching TV. I watched more educational programmes instead of just watching Jeremy Kyle.

Tom Wood in action for Cardiff Met.

“I’m quite thankful that the environment I’ve been brought up in is to get better, so I just get on with it and see what I can do to improve.”

After what Tom described as “the longest four months ever” he was back on the AstroTurf training with his teammates at Cardiff Met Hockey Club.

Tom has since played two games; the impact the incident has had on his career, both physically and mentally, is evident.

His artery is still narrowed, causing great fatigue to his body so he only has the energy to play hockey once a fortnight.

“There is a small chance it could happen again as the artery is still not fully open. It’s about 70% open. There’s about 12 months or so until I’m back right and can do everything properly again.”

During the recovery period, Tom found the time to venture further down the coaching pathway, working as a freelance hockey coach at Christ College, Brecon. This was a valuable experience, aiding his University degree of Sports Coaching, and keeping him active at the same time.

The break from hockey has made Tom appreciate his time back on the field. The realisation of how lucky he is to be playing again has motivated him to put more thought and care into every action he takes.

“It just feels different playing. I’m actually thinking more about everything I do” he says. This has improved his match performance, while ensuring that he keeps a suitable perspective on what, after all, is only a game.

Wales captain Tom Wood evades a tackle at the 2013 Sainsburys School Games at Birkdale School, Sheffield. Pic: Getty Images.

“It has made how much effort I put into hockey stronger, but I think about other things more because I’ve realised hockey isn’t everything. It’s like I’m going down more paths but it’s making it a lot more clear.

“It’s just so surreal, you would never expect it to happen to you. I’ve learnt a lot from it, but did I want it to happen? No, definitely not. But in the end, it’s only four months out of my life, so I can just get on with it.”

Tom is hoping to take away the positives from this experience and apply them to his passion. He hopes to compete at the next Commonwealth Games and make the selection for Team GB, his ultimate goal being becoming an Olympic athlete.

 

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