John Aloisi on open heart surgery: biggest game of his life
JOHN Aloisi is lying in his hospital bed the night before emergency open heart surgery, drawing upon the experiences from a decorated career to remain poised in front of his wife and kids.
Then, as his daughters Alisia, 17, Katia, 16, Amaya, 12, wished him well, the harsh reality struck. It could be the last time the 43-year-old sees his family.
"The scariest moment was when my family left me the night before - I was crying hard," Aloisi said.
"They were good for a week and a half, got used to the news. When they were saying goodbye, that was hard to see.
"When they walked out, I felt alone. That's when I was afraid going (in for surgery). What if I don't wake up from this? You hear those stories.
"That's when I went back to my book and writing my notes."
Four-hour surgery was required to repair a ruptured mitral valve, which had Aloisi's heart compensating for substantial blood loss - 50 per cent of it.
Robin Sharma's The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari was the book.
The notes were affirmations, with Aloisi revealing how he adopted the same mental techniques as the famous Uruguay penalty to overcome his fears.
"You start to think what it was like preparing for a game as player or coach. I felt the best way of dealing with my emotions was like I was preparing for the biggest game of my life," he said.
"Even something like scoring the goal against Uruguay, I thought how did I feel confident scoring that goal? I had a belief that I was going to score the winning goal - didn't know how, or if it was going to be a penalty. But I visualised it.
"So I started to write down on a piece of paper what I wanted to happen in the surgery, I'm grateful the open heart surgery went well and the doctor was able to repair the mitral valve, grateful the recovery went well and I'm feeling better and fitter post surgery. I repeated it often before surgery."
The ice-cool technique that allowed Aloisi to blast home the penalty against Uruguay, to break a 32-year hoodoo, worked for the biggest test of his life - except for one moment of weakness.
"I won't lie, it was tough. Toughest thing I've had to deal with before and after - the mental side more, then the physical," Aloisi said.
"As soon as I found out, I let my wife (Angela) know. Then I rang Mum (Helen), I was still strong. Then I called Dad (Rocco) and couldn't talk, emotionally I broke down.
"That was the first time I let my guard down. Your dad is the one you look to as leader, you look up to since you're a kid.
"I was trying to explain to him - couldn't get my words out. He didn't know what I was trying to say. He calmed me down, was being strong. Little did I know that when he wasn't talking to me, he was a mess himself.
"You tell the kids, but you go into dad mode, acting strong, knowing there's fear inside you. They cried a bit. Saw that I was positive about it. When you're alone you start to think what can happen, will you be OK? All things cross your mind."
Aloisi was watching a football game on his Brisbane couch when he felt the irregular heartbeat.
In charge of Brisbane Roar a year earlier and coaching for most of the past eight years, Aloisi admitted he might have postponed the doctor's visit.
"I probably wouldn't have gone to see him if working full-time. I thought I could deal with it, but because I had time on my hands I thought I'd get checked up," he said.
"I was short of breath, that didn't really scare me. When I was on the couch, I could feel my heart palpitating and racing."
It's left a significant scar on arguably the most famous chest in Australian sport - exposed to millions of Australians as he raced down the Homebush Olympic Stadium pitch, flanked by ecstatic Socceroos teammates.
But the heart is pounding as strong as ever after successful surgery.
Eager to return to coaching, Aloisi peppered his surgeons with questions relating to the round-ball, including whether it had contributed to his condition.
Aloisi is in even better nick post-surgery, attending the gym daily as he sets his sights on a touchline return.
"When I sat down with the cardiologist, the first thing that came into my head, was it my lifestyle, what I've been through as a pro footballer? After football, stresses of management and coaching," Aloisi said.
"I didn't feel that stressed, but you never know.
"The cardiologist said it had nothing to do with that. It was like crossing the road and getting hit by a car, what happened with mitral valve.
"They don't know when it happened. But it had been at least a month.
"It gives you a different outlook on life - it can be taken from you any day. You've got to make the most of any situation.
"I loved football and knew I'd be involved in it. Even more so when I was sitting in hospital - it's my passion.
"Straight away I asked the cardiologist if I can coach again. The surgeon and anaesthetist said hurry up and get a job.
"I know I'll coach again and physically I feel better than before. I'm fortunate I'm feeling good and can't wait to get involved."
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