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Thursday, March 30, 2023

This experience has changed everything for me – Jake White on near-death experience

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Johannesburg – Bulls mentor Jake White’s near-death experience has caused him to think differently about the game of rugby and life itself.

For him it used to be every try is life and death, every match is life and death but after surviving an illness that nearly cost him his life, he now knows more about life and death.

White penned a heartfelt “My Voice” article on Monday revealing just how close to death he came after he fell ill while on travel with the Bulls during the United Rugby Championship (URC).

Back in early January the team touched down in Wales for a match-up with the Dragons, but White couldn’t make it out of bed for that game. He says he already started feeling sick when the Bulls faced the Stormers in Cape Town a day before Christmas.

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“I thought it might be Covid, but I started to get severe stomach cramps (upon returning to SA). We had no sooner landed back home after the tour than I was taken to hospital for emergency abdominal surgery caused by a blood clot in my small intestine.”

After his emergency surgery while speaking to his doctor, White realised just how close to death he really came.

The 59-year-old joked and asked his surgeon if he should buy a Lotto ticket after the scare. But with a deadly serious look he responded: “Jake, you’ve already used it.”

“This is what left the greatest impact on me,” White added.

“It wasn’t the actual operation but rather how the surgeon explained to me all the things that could’ve gone wrong throughout the ordeal and how lucky I was.

“He explained how if the aneurysm had gone into my brain, I would’ve suffered a stroke. If it had gone into my heart, I would’ve had a heart attack. If it had gone into my lungs, they would’ve collapsed.

“I found out later that this last scenario is how so many people died during the Covid-19 pandemic. So the fact that the blood clot manifested itself in my abdominal region was my first miracle.”

White continues to describe two more miracles that happened while he was ill and how one could’ve changed his life and the other could’ve possibly ended it.

Firstly, the surgeon told him if the part of his small intestine that died was anywhere closer to his colon, White would’ve been in real trouble and most likely had to walk with an external bag for the rest of his life.

The third was more serious. He was told if anything had ruptured on the flight back home because of the obstruction caused by the dead part of the small intestine, no-one would’ve been able to do anything for him on the flight.

“Three miracles. Or in my rugby language, the kind of three-pointer that literally saves your life.

“This experience has changed everything for me because it’s hit home to me just how lucky I am to be alive. You know, as a coach your job is to motivate your players and you can often slip into those textbook sayings or speeches you often see in the movies.

“You know the ones. ‘Guys, let’s die for each other out there today’. ‘Never give up’. ‘Fight to the last’. ‘When you get knocked down don’t stay down’. That kind of thing.

“But let me tell you when death is as close and real as the metronomic beep of a ventilator and heart monitor, and the silence of a solitary hospital room replaces the cheers of thousands of fans, clever sayings don’t mean much. That’s when you need to walk the walk.”

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White is eager to carry these three miracles and lessons that he’s learned especially during his time in ICU, over to his players.

The whole ordeal has given him so much more perspective about life and rugby. While lying in intensive care, he adds, he had a lot of time to think and reflect and as a coach, he’s going to use this balanced perspective he’s been given.

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“I have been given another shot at life, literally, and to truly enjoy what I do. And I’m going to live and coach knowing how fortunate I am. Because I know, it can quickly be taken away from you.”

The Bulls’ next match in the URC is on February 18 at Loftus Versfeld against the Stormers.


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