Nigel Reo-Coker: 'I broke down and couldn't speak when I saw Fabrice'
The Bolton captain reveals the emotional impact of visiting his team-mate in hospital
Nigel Reo-Coker has revealed that he broke down when he walked into the hospital room to see his friend and team-mate Fabrice Muamba for the first time.
Reo-Coker, the Bolton captain for spells this season, went to see Muamba at the London Chest Hospital with team-mates Darren Pratley and Mark Davies following the cardiac arrest he suffered at Tottenham in the FA Cup last Saturday. The sight of the tubes coming out of their friend as he lay in his bed was too much.
"To see him lying there with all the tubes and everything, it was tough," Reo-Coker said. "It was really difficult, very, very difficult for me, myself, Darren and Mitch, our physio.
"We'd already been told that he'd got his memory, so he could recognise people. When I walked in there, I choked up. He said, 'All right Nige?' obviously not speaking so well because he was still a bit drugged up. He said, 'What happened?' I just choked up in all honesty; I couldn't even answer him. I was just looking at him and he was asking, 'What happened, what happened?'
"I was overjoyed just to see him but he's still in a serious situation and that's why I couldn't even answer him. I just choked up just seeing him in that position. Pratley said, 'You just collapsed, but don't worry about it, you're going to be OK'.
"He's still in a very serious condition and we're taking it one day at a time but, for me, just to see him after what I saw on the pitch and the news we got in the dressing room, for your heart not beating for that long, just to be alive and recognise anyone is a miracle.
"He's still not out of the woods. It was nice to finally see him and to still be alive was more than enough for me. We were in and out in probably about a minute, maximum. You've got to respect the family and their privacy. When the incident occurred, I was thinking about going straight to the hospital myself after the game but I just thought that in these situations the most important thing is to be around immediate family and your closest friends.
"There would have been too many people there. I left it for a few days. I saw Shauna, his fiancée, and explained that I would have come sooner but it was going to be chaos with so many people calling and texting. If I was in that situation, I'd want the same."
Reo-Coker also talked of the impact seeing Muamba collapse had on himself and his team-mates. He was the closest player to Muamba when he fell to the White Hart Lane turf and Reo-Coker added: "It feels like a lifetime since the incident but it only happened on Saturday. I remember playing the game, Fabrice breaking forward once and having a shot then trying to play it out wide.
"I remember him running back and collecting a half clearance from one of our centre-backs," he said. "The next thing I remember is facing towards our right-back position and I turned around and saw Fabrice on the floor. I thought maybe there had been a collision with a Tottenham player but then I realised that there was no one close to him.
"He was shaking. I didn't know what it was. I thought he might have been having a fit, but I'd not known him to have any fits or epilepsy or anything like that. I didn't realise how serious it was until the physio got there and I tried to help him turn Fabrice over. That's when I realised that it was something more serious. It was very emotional in the dressing room. From the time he was on the pitch to being carried into the ambulance, it just felt like a lifetime.
"Emotions were everywhere in the dressing room. We've got a very young team and a lot of them were in tears. Young Ryo [Miyaichi], everyone was in tears. There was nothing you could say to comfort each other. It was totally unexpected. One minute you're playing a game, the next he's lying there. No one saw it coming.
"Later, I couldn't think straight. It's an experience you never expect or want to go through. For me, it's a life changing experience. It just shows how precious life is. Football came second. The one thing I remember distinctively was when they were trying to resuscitate him and they were shocking him, the stadium just went quiet. Even though they were the opposition fans, you could sense the Spurs fans were shocked. You could tell by the atmosphere.
"Then the Bolton fans began to sing his name. Then the Spurs fans began to sing his name. It just sent a tingle down my spine to the point where I nearly broke down. I am not generally a person who cries that much but it sent a real tingle down my spine. I cannot find the words to put together to describe the feeling but that's just how it was. I literally got home and closed the door and didn't pick up the phone to anyone. Lots of people texted me to see if I was OK and I appreciate that, but it was not about me."
Today, however, will be about Reo-Coker and his team-mates and how they react against Blackburn Rovers in a crucial game at the Reebok Stadium as Bolton seek to lift themselves out of the relegation zone.
"I can only speak for myself, that edge is there," he added. "It's been difficult, but, like I said, Fabrice literally was not alive for 70 minutes. To see him alive was such a weight off my shoulders. That gives me the fighting spirit. That gives me the edge to go and perform on Saturday. Hopefully, that will go throughout the whole team."
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