CM – THE PAIN PLAY: Pieter-Steph du Toit celebrates his rugby comeback 398 days later


Pieter-Steph du Toit rattles against Jack Goodhue (left) from New Zealand during a rugby championship match at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. EPA-EFE / KIM LUDBROOK

The last time Pieter-Steph du Toit played rugby, South Africa had only heard and seen reports of a strange respiratory virus that came from China and caused concern in Italy.

« Covid -19 « , » Pandemic « and » Lockdown « were not yet part of our dictionary. Great rugby was still around, Newlands was still the home of rugby in the Western Cape, and the Stormers weren’t part of a rugby competition in the Northern Hemisphere province.

It all seems like a lifetime ago, just as it is how decades have felt since Du Toit mowed down Englishmen in the final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup or plundered them in a Stormers jersey a few months later.

But a rare injury almost cost Du Toit his leg and career. It took three surgeries and months of rehabilitation and even then it wasn’t clear if he would ever run properly, let alone play.

Fortunately, Du Toit is back on the field this weekend wearing a Stormers jersey when his team meets the Sharks in a Rainbow Cup SA match. The World Player of the Year 2019 was included on the starting line-up for the encounter in the Cape Town Stadium.

Between the ongoing acute compartment syndrome against the blues in a super rugby game and this weekend’s outing against the sharks would be a total of 398 Days have passed.

« It’s almost 15 months off the field and I’m really excited to be back, » said a fit and confident looking Du Toit. « There have been a lot of setbacks that have kept me off the field for so long, but now I just want to get the basics right.

 » To be back on the field after an injury like this is a blessing for me. I’m in a good environment because I’m in the phase of my career where I want to be competitive and serious, but I’ve also realized that you can do it with a smile on your face.

« During this one For a long time that I was not in the game, I learned a lot about life and myself. It was a good thing for me I think. “

Acute Compartment Syndrome is a potentially fatal condition that blocks blood supply from one area of ​​the body to another due to an inflamed muscle compartment. After trauma, the fascia – the connective tissue that holds the muscle in place – cannot stretch and the resulting swelling disrupts blood flow to nerves, capillaries and muscles.

Du Toit was only 43 A person in the medical history who has suffered from this disease. And it happened to him twice.

Thanks to fast-acting Stormers team doctor Jason Suter, who saw the signs of the obscure illness, Du Duit made it in time for the operation. Even longer and his leg could almost certainly have been amputated.

After Du Toit suffered two severe blows to his thigh on February 29, 2020 while playing for the Stormers against the Blues, he hobbled in the middle of the second half off the field.

« At first I just went to the sideline and had ice strapped around my leg to reduce the swelling, » Du Toit said incorrectly to Daily Maverick in 2020. I couldn’t feel my leg.

“I suffered a similar injury in 2010 when I was in my senior year of high school. So I told the doctor that we need to keep an eye on it. He agreed and immediately sent me to the hospital for a check-up.

« When I got to the hospital, I wasn’t in pain, but there was this strange feeling of pressure in my leg – as if my thigh was about to explode. It swelled because of the blood Couldn’t go anywhere. I didn’t respond to medication and the specialist quickly operated on me to relieve the pressure and bring blood to my lower leg. « 

The first operation saved his leg, but the wound was massive. A disc the length of his thigh (about 40 cm, Du Toit estimated) was left open for more than a week. The muscle in his thigh was so inflamed that doctors couldn’t pull the skin over the cut to sew it.

He had a second operation to try to close the wound, and yet the gaping abyss failed unsealed, leaving doctors with no choice but to put on a vacuum bandage that covers the wound while the swelling decreases.

After 12 days, doctors were able to stitch the wound, but by then Du Toit had almost 10 lost pounds, much of it from the loss of muscle mass in his leg.

Du Toit is no stranger to pain. He has won 55 test caps, won a world championship, a rugby championship, was the captain of the Springboks, was three times South African Player of the Year (2016, 2018, 2019) and was World Player of the Year in 2019. It’s a remarkable body of work for someone whose own body has suffered more than anyone in their life should.

Du Toit had surgery on his left and right ankle, two knee operations, a broken sternum and, perhaps most seriously , the acute compartment syndrome that almost cost him his left leg. Twice. It doesn’t even list the usual rugby complaints of sprained fingers, torn muscles and general hitting.

« We’re all delighted to have Pieter-Steph back because we know he’s the best player in the world », said Stormer’s striker coach Rito Hlungwani. « What he brings to the table is amazing.

 » He is so experienced and gives the young people so much input. It’s almost like having an extra coach on the field, but at the same time he has such a high work rate and morale as a player. He never stops running and has no regard for his own body when playing. « 

Suter will be a man who follows Toit’s comeback with great interest and a little fear.

 » Every injury is about squeezing the envelope to get the player back on as quickly as possible Bringing the field of play, but never at the expense of his health, « said Suter.

 » There is always a fine line between making sure the injury is healed and knowing that the player is confident that his reactions are are good and that all neuromuscular systems are working properly to avoid recurrence of the injury or any other injury.

« We are proud of the hard work Pieter-Steph has put and we look forward to seeing it which is really a « new debut » for him. « DM

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