The magnitude of Darren Fletcher’s return to the international fold after his career was threatened by a chronic bowel problem has been highlighted by an Edinburgh golf professional.
Richard Brian, the club pro at Bruntsfield Links, lived with the same condition for 15 years, during which time he was rarely able to play golf and saw every-day tasks become difficult.
It was an “unpleasant” existence and led Brian to undergo a lengthy operation to have his colon removed last May, a decision that is allowing him to live his life normally again.
And, having been to hell and back himself, he is full of admiration for Fletcher after seeing the midfielder first return to top-team action for Manchester United then now be recalled to the Scotland squad for the forthcoming friendly against Poland.
“I got genuinely emotional when Darren made his comeback from illness, not because of my allegiance to Manchester United but because I knew exactly what he had been through,” Brian told the Evening News.
“Unlike Darren, who had a recent diagnosis, I suffered from Ulcerative Colitis for 15 years, having been diagnosed in 1999. I was feeling unwell and after a number of intrusive examinations the diagnosis came through.
“I had suffered in the form of extreme stomach pains and lack of bowel control together with severe bleeding and debilitating lethargy on and off for 15 years.
“This had a drastic effect on my life. Like Darren, it prevented me from playing the sport I loved and generally meaning I couldn’t commit to everyday events.
“Mornings were a nightmare and the thought of getting stuck in a traffic jam sent shivers down my spine due to my desperate need to go to the toilet. The illness was controlled over that time by a combination of immunosuppressants and steroids, which in themselves have unpleasant side effects.”
An assistant pro at the time to Brian MacKenzie, Brian was reluctant to publicise his illness. “Most members had no idea I was ill,” he admitted.
MacKenzie helped keep his spirits up. David Sandford, the club’s former secretary, also offered valuable support after Brian was promoted to head pro.
“In November 2012, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life,” added Brian, whose brother Steven is the club pro at neighbouring Royal Burgess. “I decided to finish this unpleasant way of life and get an operation to remove my colon (large intestine) which would help solve my problems.
“The operation was performed on May 29, 2013 by Miss Din at the Western General Hospital. It was a bit of a marathon, taking 8.5 hours.
“My recovery started straight away and, after four days in the High Dependency Unit, I was moved into a ward where I spent another 14 days. The staff at the Western were superb and did everything in their limited power to help me and make my stay as comfortable a possible, even if at times they had to be brutal towards me with motivation.
“The post-hospital early days were a real struggle. I was effectively learning how to go to the toilet again and found it hard to leave the house. But slowly and surely with the support of my beautiful wife (Fiona) and kids (Chloe and Murray), together with mum, dad, brother and family and, parents-in-law, we battled through and learned with baby steps what was and wasn’t possible. My four-year-old daughter, Chloe, would come for evening walks with me and gradually we increased our walk by a lamppost each go!
“During this time the committee at Bruntsfield offered me huge support and made no reference to employment or absence. They just wanted to see me fit and were hugely supportive of my assistant Richard Clark, who held the ship for nearly ten weeks as I recovered, and to whom I am extremely grateful.
“Six months on and I’m beginning to live the most normal life I have done since I was a teenager. I am by no means fully recovered and have a long way to go, which is why I am so impressed and lifted by seeing Darren playing at the highest level having gone through the same as me.
“He should be an inspiration to anyone who has been through, thinking about, or signed up for this operation.”