Bulgaria’s Petrov on Leukaemia Battle: I Owe Everything to My Wife
Days after cancer-stricken former Aston Villa captain, Bulgarian Stiliyan Petrov, reached the age of thirty-four, he has spoken for the first completely honestly about how he and his family are coping with the difficult situation.
“I feel very lucky and I feel very positive. Some people don’t come through this kind of illness and that leaves me sad and cold,” he told the Sunday Mail.
“But I’m still here to speak about it and I’m on the way back to full health. With the support of my family, I have been able to get through the past year and a half.
“Paulina has been beside me every minute of every day. Honestly, it’s been incredible to have had that from my wife. She has been so strong for me and our children, Stiliyan and Kristiyan.
She made sure I never gave up. I owe her everything.”
In an emotional interview Stiliyan – nicknamed Stan by Celtic fans – told the Sunday Mail of the life-shattering moment when he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia.
It was March last year and at just 33, he was at the height of his career as captain of Aston Villa and felt in great physical condition.
But his life was turned upside-down when the killer disease was found in his system after a routine medical at the training ground.
Stiliyan and Paulina were in a state of shock but immediately vowed to beat the illness. And now, 17 months on, the midfielder is on his way back to full health.
Speaking for the first time about the devastating impact the diagnosis had on his family, Stiliyan said: “I can remember most of it very clearly.
“It was March last year and Kristiyan had a wee cold. I felt a wee bit under the weather and thought it was down to Kristiyan being unwell.
“But I was still doing my usual training to prepare for our game at Arsenal. I got up on the Saturday morning at the hotel and felt great.
“Then in the game, I had to go on two long runs and I felt a bit strange. There was a lack of power in my legs.
“A few minutes later, I was turned in the box and I didn’t react and Arsenal scored. My mind knew what to do but my legs refused to take me.
“Alex McLeish told me at half time he thought I was second to every ball and that it was unusual for me. I told him I didn’t feel right and he asked if I wanted to come off. I said it was the best decision for the team.
“But my team-mates asked me to play on. The adrenalin must have kicked in and I actually felt OK and finished the 90 minutes.
“I felt down on the bus journey home. I spoke to the doctor, Ian McGuinness, and he took my temperature – it was 37.6C. He told me it was nothing to be concerned about but gave me antibiotics. Next morning I was fine.
“On the Tuesday, we had heart-screening after the terrible Fabrice Muamba incident. They also took blood.
“On the Wednesday, we were off and I was out for lunch with Paulina. Dr McGuinness phoned me to say he was concerned and asked me to give another blood sample the following day. I did.
“I was advised not to train, but I trained. I wanted to play on the Saturday against Chelsea.
“I left the training ground but Dr McGuinness phoned me to go to Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham. One of the physios accompanied me and when we walked through the doors, I was entering the doors for the cancer unit.
I was shocked. I immediately phoned Paulina and asked her to get to the hospital. The doctor sat me down and told me he thought I had leukaemia. I said, ‘What?’
“They needed to take bone marrow. I tried to get my head around this. Paulina arrived and I told her.
“The doctor then gave us some details and what may be involved but we were told to go home and come back the next day.
“It still wasn’t 100 per cent confirmed. I told Paulina the diagnosis had to be wrong. We didn’t sleep a wink. At 11am on the Friday, the hospital asked me back. I was told I had leukaemia. Paulina burst into tears. We cuddled.
“I told the doctor I wanted a second opinion. I was recommended a professor at the University College Hospital in London.
“I went straight to London and he confirmed it. He put me on a really strong course of treatment to start the following week.
“Paulina has been so strong for me and our children. When I was in the hospital, she was there. She researched it all and was in constant dialogue with the medical staff.
“She never switched off. I believe every person going through this needs someone with them 24 hours a day."
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