Book ex­tract: Neil Tovey’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy

In his newly pub­lished au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, for­mer Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana Bafana cap­tain Neil Tovey opens up about the two heart at­tacks he had while play­ing sport


HE’S best known as cap­tain of the Afcon-win­ning Bafana Bafana team of 1996. Now, in a new au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Neil Tovey is telling the story of how he came to lift South Africa’s only ma­jor foot­ball tro­phy on an in­ter­na­tional stage.

Neil Tovey: A Cap­tain’s Jour­ney de­scribes his mod­est up­bring­ing in Dur­ban, his en­try to a mainly black sport in a deeply seg­re­gated 1980s South Africa, and his time as cap­tain of Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana Bafana.

In this ex­tract Tovey also talks frankly about his fam­ily and sur­viv­ing two heart at­tacks.

IALWAYS thought I was in per­fect health. My fit­ness lev­els were good, I played squash at least once a week, of­ten went for a run, did some cy­cling and fol­lowed a fairly bal­anced diet. Doc­tors gave me the thumbs-up at ev­ery an­nual checkup and I felt good. Well, that was un­til I played a game of squash with my wife, Michelle, one Tues­day morn­ing in Fe­bru­ary 2015.

We started the match and we were both look­ing to score points. I sensed my runs and my tim­ing in hit­ting the ball were slightly off.

I also strug­gled to cen­tre the ball. Then, sud­denly, I felt a se­vere pain in my chest.

At first I tried to play through it, but then my chest re­ally started to tighten. I said to Michelle, “Let me quickly sit out­side the court.”

I sat there, try­ing to re­cover, but in­stead of catch­ing my breath, I started sweat­ing pro­fusely and my fin­gers be­gan tin­gling. Still, I didn’t even think about go­ing to the hos­pi­tal and just sug­gested to Michelle that we go home.

On our way back to the house, which was only about five min­utes away, I started to re­ally bat­tle – the pain in my chest be­came so in­tense I couldn’t even get out of the car. Michelle de­cided we should go to the hos­pi­tal im­me­di­ately. She grabbed some clothes and we rushed to Umh­langa Hos­pi­tal.

They took an ECG to check my heart. Sud­denly there was a spik­ing of the lines on the mon­i­tors – I was hav­ing a heart at­tack, or rather, an­other heart at­tack. I was rushed to theatre im­me­di­ately.

It was lunchtime and there was no car­di­ol­o­gist avail­able on site, but soon Dr Shi­raz Gafoor ar­rived. He needed to in­sert two stents. A stent is a tiny tube used to open a blocked artery and keep the blood flow­ing in the veins. Dr Gafoor told me af­ter the oper­a­tion that there was no dam­age to the heart mus­cle. I was re­lieved.

How­ever, he also ex­plained my choles­terol was too high. I found that strange be­cause I had never had prob­lems with my choles­terol in the past and my an­nual test didn’t show that it was el­e­vated. It was a hell of a dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially be­cause I’d thought I was too healthy to have a heart at­tack.

IWAS dis­charged on the Fri­day and, af­ter mak­ing a full re­cov­ery, I tried to work on my fit­ness lev­els again. I had to take some med­i­ca­tion, but I soon felt fine and was happy when Safa ap­pointed me as the new tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor in mid-2015. In Oc­to­ber of that year, I par­tic­i­pated in the AmaShova Dur­ban Clas­sic, a 106-kilo­me­tre cy­cling race from Pi­eter­mar­itzburg to Dur­ban. I cy­cled with my friend Calvin Petersen, the for­mer Moroka Swal­lows striker. I fin­ished the race with­out any prob­lems and felt ex­cited. I be­lieved it would be okay for me to par­tic­i­pate in the 2016 edi­tion on Sun­day, 16 Oc­to­ber.

I had pre­pared well for the race and felt con­fi­dent of fin­ish­ing in a faster time than in the pre­vi­ous year. I made it eas­ily past the first wa­ter point at the 21-kilo­me­tre mark, and then reached the sec­ond wa­ter point, Cato Ridge, at 42 kilo­me­tres.

I took some liq­uid and had a banana, and then phoned Michelle to say, “Babe, all is on track. I’m do­ing fine.” I was a bit faster than in 2015 and felt quite sat­is­fied.

About two min­utes later, how­ever, I felt a se­vere pain in my chest.

I stepped off my bike and sat in the shade un­der a tree. I took off my hel­met and phoned Michelle to ex­plain what was hap­pen­ing. She had planned to meet me at the fin­ish line, but I knew there was lit­tle chance now that I would get there.

Many cy­clists, mostly white, recog­nised me and asked if I was okay, but none of them stopped, so I just an­swered, “Ja, I am fine.”

Then a black cy­clist came by. He also recog­nised me and ac­tu­ally stopped to ask, “Neil, are you okay?” I wasn’t. I had spot­ted some cops about 400 me­tres down the road and asked the cy­clist if he could ask them to send for the paramedics. He did and help soon ar­rived.

He of­fered to take care of my bike and also called the am­bu­lance, which strug­gled to reach us be­cause of the race. Michelle also found it tough to get to us and even had to run about four kilo­me­tres through a field.

We even­tu­ally ar­rived at Hill­crest Pri­vate Hos­pi­tal. I was prepped for the theatre, but my vi­tal signs were drop­ping and the last thing I re­mem­bered was Dr Amit Singh walk­ing up to me with a huge nee­dle of adren­a­line.

Michelle stayed at my side and was later able to tell me ev­ery­thing that had hap­pened.

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing the adren­a­line shot, I said to her, “Sorry, Babe, I am go­ing now,” and flat­lined. No heart ac­tiv­ity. I had died.

BUT I wasn’t gone yet. They man­aged to get my heart go­ing again af­ter I’d been dead for about two and a half min­utes. I felt very calm dur­ing that “death”. I re­mem­ber walk­ing in a for­est that had huge trees with or­ange and yel­low leaves. I was at peace.

Next mo­ment, I woke up to find nurses hold­ing me down while try­ing to in­sert a drip into my arm.

They op­er­ated on me and I was able to watch the en­tire pro­ce­dure on the screen, even see­ing them go­ing into my heart. They added an­other stent, as one of the two that had been placed in my

artery the pre­vi­ous time had dis­ap­peared. I don’t know how that could have hap­pened, but it did.

Michelle was a rock dur­ing this whole pe­riod and looked af­ter me ex­tremely well. To have my brother and my chil­dren around me was also re­ally spe­cial. When I left the hos­pi­tal my heart’s ca­pac­ity had dropped to 43%, al­though I man­aged to get it up to 54% over time. It will ap­par­ently not in­crease fur­ther as the rest of the heart is dead.

My lungs and kidneys were dam­aged, so I have to look af­ter my­self care­fully. I can­not cy­cle or play squash any­more and I shouldn’t push my heart rate higher than 134 beats per minute, so I stick to golf and light gym work, with a bit of easy jog­ging and walk­ing.

I of­ten think about the cy­clist who saved my life. Many cy­clists rode past, but he took the trou­ble to ac­tu­ally stop and ask me if I needed some help. At my re­quest, he even went to the po­lice to sum­mon the paramedics. I have no idea who he is, but I would be dead with­out him.

I hope to meet him one day to thank him in per­son. I can’t cy­cle any­more and wanted to give him my bike to thank him.

'I'd been dead for about two and a half min­utes'

In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Neil writes about be­ing cap­tain when SA won Afcon in 1996.

LEFT: Neil's wife, Michelle, was with him on the squash court when he had his first heart at­tack. ABOVE: The cou­ple and their model daughter, Jes­sica (in blue), at the Sun­met with friend Kim Hans­meyer.


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