White gives positive update on Covid-affected Bulls lock

Vodacom Bulls head coach Jake White is hopeful Walt Steenkamp could return to training in mid-April after the lock’s heart was affected by coronavirus.

Steenkamp, who joined the Bulls from the Cheetahs last year, last played in December after struggling with a heart condition since he tested positive for Covid-19.

The 25-year-old’s situation has gained more attention after the Bulls sent out a full injury update on Wednesday.

During a Thursday media conference in the buildup to the Bulls’ final Preparation Series match against the Sharks, White gave a further update on Steenkamp.

‘Walt has actually been extremely unlucky,’ White explained. ‘As far as I understand, it was a million-to-one shot that he developed heart arrhythmia.

‘When we tested all the players again that were infected, we found that Walt’s heart rhythm was not quite right.’

Using the example of legendary South African long-distance runner Zola Budd, White said the Bulls need take a cautious approach as to how they reintegrate Steenkamp.

‘When [Zola] was training normally, her return from a working heart rate to a resting heart rate took about 45 seconds. After she recovered from Covid, it took her four minutes.

‘That’s a great example of why rugby needs to do cardiac testing after players get Covid. It’s easy to believe a player is fine when he has recovered, but the virus is a respiratory illness and if it does reach your heart, that becomes a difficult situation.’

Steenkamp has had to undergo an ablation operation, which uses heat to create tiny scars in the heart and stop abnormal electrical signals, restoring a normal heartbeat.

He will consult a specialist again on 12 April, where he could get the green light to return to full training.

‘Walt is defnitely feeling better. He said so himself,’ White added. ‘He is training again, doing his gym and we are constantly checking his pulse, which is stable. That’s great news. Walt definitely isn’t unfit, we need to make sure he is 100%.’

Photo: Gallo Images/Bulls

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Dylan Jack