Retired Springbok prop Tendai Mtawarira has opened up about the emotional experience of overcoming a serious heart condition.
Speaking to Dave Allen, in collaboration with the Chris Burger and Petro Jackson Players’ Fund, the Beast expressed how concerns about his heart almost derailed his rugby career, also testing his faith and belief in the process.
‘It started in 2010, during the Super Rugby season. It was a normal day, I had lunch with the boys and a cup of coffee. The next thing I felt my heart beating so fast. I called the [team] doctor and they rushed me to the cardiologist. He figured out I had a heart arrhythmia. When you hear you have some kind of heart condition, you start fearing for your career. That was the biggest shock. The cardiologist said: “This is not life-threatening.”
The condition has a direct effect on the electric impulses that controls the heartbeat, disrupting the normal rhythm to beat either faster or slower.
‘He [cardiologist] said it won’t stop me from playing, but it is ongoing and will slow me down. What they did when my heart went out of sync was to rush me to the emergency room. They used the defibrillators. They knocked me out and shocked me back to life. Then my heart was back in sync.
‘It was a challenge and my faith came into play. I am a very strong Christian and faith has always been my foundation. I played with the condition for about six months before I went to Cape Town to do a process called ablation.
‘They told me I could not do any sporting activities for two months. It was off-season, so I was able to recover and come back and play Super Rugby. However, it didn’t go away. It came back again. I had to go for another ablation, sit out for another couple of months.’
But, Mtawarira was forced to go for another ablation after experiencing a similar reaction the night before a Test against Ireland in Dublin.
‘I remember breaking down and crying in front of our team manager Charles Wessels. I had to leave camp and was put on the next flight out and went for another ablation.
‘It was pretty tough, but I remained faithful and after that third incident it never came back again. I was in the best shape ever, played some of my best rugby and was able to win a World Cup. It is a testimony of being faithful.’
The 34-year-old would go on to become the first-ever black Springbok to reach 100 Test matches and famously bowed out of international rugby after winning the World Cup in Japan in November last year.