‘‘YOU’VE gone through hell. If anyone can get back on their feet, it will be you.’’
Those were the inspirational words of Neil Young’s doctor this week as the Jets keeper prepared to go home yesterday after his fifth operation.
It has been seven months since a stray boot from Gold Coast striker Shane Smeltz sparked a nightmare chain of events that not only threatened Young’s football career but his life.
That much we already know about Neil Young.
But today, with his permission, the Newcastle Herald can reveal the full extent of his ordeal and the highly personal details he would not disclose until in the clear.
What was supposed to be a routine operation to repair a badly broken nose went catastrophically wrong.
He suffered an adverse reaction to the antibiotics he was prescribed after surgery, which resulted in an infection in his bowel.
From that point, things spiralled almost out of control. At the lowest point, his liver shut down, his body stopped producing white blood cells and his bone marrow failed to function.
As Young puts it: ‘‘I was on the way out.’’
Rushed to intensive care, Young’s bowel was removed and a colostomy bag was attached to his intestine.
He couldn’t eat for four weeks and lost an incredible 25per cent of his body weight, shedding 20 kilograms from his lean athlete’s frame to 68kilograms.
In his words, he looked and felt like a prisoner of war.
But after five bouts of surgery, the last of which was on Tuesday, Young finally feels like he has his body back.
His small intestine has been modified to allow him to function without the colostomy bag, ending 21 weeks of torture.
He was released from hospital – for the final time, he hopes – yesterday.
‘‘It was such a relief,’’ an emotional Young told the Herald.
‘‘I was extremely anxious before the surgery. I was all over the place. I just wanted to get it out of the way. After it, I had a bit of cry session with my wife.
‘‘She took my shirt off and could see my stomach [without the colostomy bag].
‘‘Just to be able to do simply things like play with my kids.
‘‘They couldn’t jump on me and were always wary of hurting my stomach.
‘‘Even just to be able to lay in bed on my side. It has been the longest seven months of my life.’’
Young returned to Jets training last month, but apart from the odd light run, he was restricted to water boy duties.
But now the initial battle is over, the supremely driven 30-year-old is ready for stage two.
‘‘The specialist said ‘you’ve gone through hell. If anyone can get back on their feet, it will be you’,’’ Young said.
‘‘It’s not going to beat me. I want to get back playing and prove to my kids that you can come back from this sort of thing.’’
He hopes to be able to get back on the bike straight away and build up to handling and kicking exercises.
‘‘The doctors said there should be no dramas getting fully into it in six weeks,’’ Young said.
‘‘I’m aiming to be back training as normal and fighting for a spot by mid-September.’’
The Jets kick off on August 6 and have signed Paul Henderson to a short-term deal to cover for Young, but for now coach Branko Culina said the only thing that mattered was the keeper’s health.
‘‘He has been in the players thoughts and they genuinely hope he recovers sufficiently enough to be back on the park,’’ Culina said.
‘‘Most of all, they want him fit and well.’’
That fateful Gold Coast game in January was only Young’s ninth game in the top grade.
Having left his wife and two young sons in Perth to chase the A-League dream, he was promised nothing more than a trial with the Jets but, after two months, earned a one-year contract.
Before wife Lauren and sons Owen, 4, and Mitchell, 1, joined him in April, teammate Michael Bridges and friends Andy and Sam Piggott helped Young cope with the mental and physical strain.
‘‘I sat down with Bridgey at one point and told him I’d had enough,’’ Young said.
‘‘I was fed up with everything and didn’t want to do it any more. He gave me a bit of a pep talk and lifted my spirits.’’