Friday, February 09, 2007

Rugby legend goes through surgery to treat seizures

RUGBY league legend Wally Lewis is set to have brain surgery to try to free himself from debilitating epileptic seizures that have tormented him for nearly 20 years.

The ex-Queensland and Australia captain, now a Former Origin Greats director and sports journalist with Channel 9, will go to Melbourne this month for more medical tests.

Lewis revealed he is prepared for the news he fears most - that he will need an operation to remove the damaged part of his brain because medication can no longer keep his seizures in check.

"We have spent a fair bit of time tossing the coin over which way we were going to go," Lewis said.

"I made a decision years ago that there was no way in the world I was going under the knife, but I have done a complete turnaround on that.

"Really, surgery appears to be the only option left for me now."

Lewis clearly remembers the day his world turned upside down.

"I was sitting at home one morning watching television and just started getting this uncomfortable feeling," he said. "It is almost like a premonition that something is coming on. Then you get what is known as an episode, where you don't understand a thing.

"The things that you are hearing around you make no sense. Things you are watching on television seem to be backwards, upside down, wrong way round. You can't make any sense out of anything you are hearing."

The disturbing experience Lewis described was an epileptic seizure.

In the latest edition of the Former Origin Greats Queenslander Magazine, Lewis explains that he was first diagnosed with epilepsy in the late 1980s, while still playing in some of the most famous matches of his career.

"At that stage I wondered whether it was the aftermath of a concussion or something like that," Lewis said. "The doctors got me in for some scans. I think it was more to look for clots or damage, but there didn't seem to be anything there."

Eighteen months later, after some more episodes, a new doctor suggested tests for epilepsy.
"I had to pick my jaw up off the floor when he told me," Lewis said. "He said they could prescribe medication for it, and that was it."

Lewis's stellar league career continued until 1992, with the Maroons captain admired as much for his leadership and toughness as for his skill.

It was only recently, more than 14 years after his playing days ended, that his condition became public.

Lewis, now 47, experienced a couple of on-air episodes while reading the Nine sports bulletin. Speculation about his health prompted him to reveal his epilepsy battle.

In an interview screened on Nine last month, he admitted the neurological disorder had robbed him of many proud sporting memories.

Clearly frustrated, Lewis said: "I just want to get over it. I'm sick and tired of being confused."
Doctors told him the TV incidents were symptoms his medication was no longer effective.
His worried wife Jacqui said: "He's scared for the first time in his life."

Agreeing to surgery was difficult, but unavoidable.

"I had seen a bloke who had had the surgery done, and ... the way he responded, it frightened me a little bit. I looked at the bloke and wondered whether that was the way I wanted to go," Lewis said.

"They cut a piece of the brain out, to put it bluntly. I originally thought it was the size of a thumbnail, but it is a fair bit bigger than that.

"But I have seen the guy since and he is handling it quite well."


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