YOUNG Doncaster rugby player Joe Matthews has made an incredible comeback to the sport he loves after a life-saving heart transplant.
Players who line up against Doncaster Phoenix second team are amazed when they learn one of their opponents has someone else’s heart.
And to prove he is fighting his way back to full fitness, Joe has already chalked up three tries with the Doncaster Phoenix second team.
The 24-year-old, who works as a graphic designer at Signfix in Dinnington, picked up a raft of athletics medals in the last British Transplant Games in Sheffield - showing his remarkable recovery from the sudden illness that struck him down when he was just 18 and studying in the United States.
Joe was offered a place on a rugby team in California during a holiday in the USA with his family.
He saved up all his earnings from a Saturday job to return to Santa Cruz to play - and made such a good impression he won a scholarship to the Berkeley University of California, which had the best rugby team in the US.
Joe said: “At Christmas 2005 I had developed into 14-and-a-half stone of pure muscle and was doing really well on the rugby pitch.
“I was super fit and used to challenge friends to race up flights of stairs!
“But by February 2006 I was starting to feel breathless and was struggling up the stairs. The guys were laughing and telling me to ‘man up’ so I went to see a doctor because I thought I had bronchitis.
“I was sent to hospital for an X-ray and I was diagnosed with an extremely enlarged heart, which in rare cases can affect young athletes.
“During a procedure at Stanford Hospital I had a cardiac arrest in the operating room.
“My heart was so bad that I was jumped right up the transplant list.”
Joe’s parents had taken out good travel insurance. The medical bill for the transplant, which ran into millions of dollars, was covered.