London Irish second-row Josh McNally is delighted to be back in the mix after nearly five months out following corrective heart surgery.
The RAF serviceman, 27, was diagnosed with Patent Foramen Ovale after feeling unwell during the Aviva Premiership fixture at Saracens in October and made a try-scoring return in last week’s game against Gloucester.
Now fighting fit, McNally said: “I’m enjoying being back in an Irish shirt. The St Patrick’s game was always going to be a big one in the calendar for me as I felt I could target it for a return.
“The whole story of having a stroke and struggling to find a cause was the biggest thing,” said McNally.
“If you couldn’t find a cause, then you struggled to find anyone to say, ‘Yes, you are fit to play’ because it could happen again.
“Thankfully, we sought some of the best medical advice and found that I had a hole in the heart which is the reason the clot had got through.
“We got that closed, and I had a three-month recovery period, and I’ve got back on the park since.
"It’s been a long process but it feels like a distant memory now. A lot of people are born with a hole in the heart. Most people take their first breath and it shuts, but for some it doesn’t. It’s quite common.
“Not many people will push themselves to elite athlete levels of max heart rate, so they won’t find it.”
Explaining how he felt after the Saracens game last autumn, McNally added: “I played 80 minutes against Saracens and, driving home, my heart had expanded with all the stress of the game and the clot managed to get through.
“I could easily have got through my whole life with loads of near misses, but nothing ever happening. I was just unlucky that a clot got through and caused a stroke but lucky that the stroke was so minor because it could have been a lot worse. Thankfully, it was a bullet dodged and I crack on.”
The former London Welsh lock will be hoping to build on his return when the Exiles take on Harlequins at The Stoop next Saturday, before welcoming Exeter Chiefs to the Madejski Stadium on Sunday 15 April (kick-off 3pm).
London Irish’s next home game is against Exeter Chiefs on Sunday 15 April with tickets available by calling 0118 968 1016 or by visiting www.lidirect.co.uk