Cycling: National hero determined to compete in Paris despite major op

PETALING JAYA: “It’s like God has decided to give me a second chance to live again.”

That was the first thought that came to the mind of Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Azizulhasni Awang (pic) when he regained consciousness after undergoing an open heart surgery in Australia 11 days ago.

After keeping his condition close to his heart, the 34-year-old openly revealed it during a special online press conference yesterday after undergoing a corrective heart surgery for anomalous aortic origin of right coronary artery (AAORCA).

The revelation came as a huge shock as Azizul has been in perfect condition over the decades winning many accolades for the country in cycling.

Azizul had first complained of chest pain in February and was referred to a consultant cardiologist Dr Barveen Aisha for further checks in Melbourne by his family doctor.

Azizul, who picked up a fourth National Sportsman of the Year award in March, then went for the operation at Epworth Richmond Hospital in Victoria, Australia, on April 21 after getting a second opinion from medical experts in Malaysia.

“This condition is very rare and is a natural birth defect,” said Azizul, who looked calm during the interview.

“But I would have had a very high chance of getting a cardiac arrest had I continued on with my sports career without going for corrective heart surgery.

“Initial tests did not detect anything but only after an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) cardiac scan did they manage to see the anomaly.

“In my situation, the artery was only functioning about 20% compared to a normal person.

Azizul admitted the revelation of his condition brought back memories to a few incidents when he had felt tightness in his chest.

“It hit me … that I had experienced slight chest pain on a few occasions in the past but I thought that maybe it was because of the high intensity training sessions and I was merely feeling lethargic.

“I was advised to go for surgery as soon as possible. I spent two days in the intensive care unit before I was transferred to the normal ward.

“I felt very weak. Initially, I could only walk for short distances as I started to get giddy after the operation.

“It was not surprising as I was told this happens to patients who have gone for open heart surgery.

“But I feel better now. I thank God for giving me a second chance to live again. Life is precious indeed, ”said Azizul.

The focus for the Terengganu-born athlete is to ensure that he makes a full recovery and, hopefully, he will be able to make a comeback to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Azizul will sit out the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in July and the Asian Games in Hangzhou in September as well.

“I stated before that I wanted to go for my last Commonwealth Games and Asian Games but the priority now is to make sure that I make a full recovery for the rest of this year,” said Azizul.

After securing silver in Tokyo, the keirin specialist had expressed his desire to go for his fifth Olympics in Paris for another shot at winning the nation’s first gold medal.

The silver was the second Olympics medal in his illustrious career after winning bronze in keirin in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

“If I can do this (improve), there should be no issue with me going for the 2024 Paris Olympics,” added Azizul, who apologized for not disclosing his condition earlier.

“A lot of things were going through my mind and hence, I decided to isolate myself for the last two months.

“I had to make big decisions as this was something I’ve never expected to happen to me as I had no health issues before this.

“This is certainly the biggest challenge in my career, so I’m sorry to everyone if I didn’t respond in the usual way.

“Only my family and my coach (John Beasley) knew of my situation. They gave me space to make my own decisions and it was only after my condition was officially diagnosed that I stopped training completely.

“My hope now is for Malaysians to support me and wish me well with the recovery process,” added Azizul.

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