After three bouts of surgery, 10kg of lost weight and one broken SEA Games dream, Singapore rugby standout Jay-Hykel Jailani is on the mend from a rare condition that almost ended his promising career.
Last November, the 21-year-old was diagnosed with Paget-Schroetter disease, a condition in which blood clots are formed in the deep veins of the arms. It usually affects healthy youngsters and can occur after rigorous exercise or activity.
Jay-Hykel's condition - which can be fatal if not treated effectively - was exacerbated by an extra rib located near his collarbone. With less space to accommodate his muscles, veins and nerves, his blood flow was constricted.
From being one of Singapore's key weapons in their bid for a maiden rugby gold at the Games (the game did not feature at the last edition in Myanmar), the winger was barred by doctors from even going on a slow jog.
He had been flying after impressive performances for invitational outfit Asia-Pacific Dragons - coached by All Blacks legend Tana Umaga - at the Hong Kong 10s in March last year.
The Republic Polytechnic graduate went on to become the Republic's top try-scorer in the Asian Sevens Series, where they finished a creditable seventh.
He even deferred national service to train full-time for the Games - before he learnt of his condition. "My life came crumbling down," Jay-Hykel recalled.
"All the hard work - coming home at 10pm after training, waking up at 5am to hit the gym - went down the drain."
Last month, he underwent his latest operation to remove the extra rib, and was hospitalised for 11 days.
After pestering his doctors, he was finally given the all-clear to resume exercise last week.
The speedster was warmly greeted with hugs and high-fives from his national team-mates at the Sports Hub gym yesterday, ahead of his first fitness session in six months.
Forward Jon Lee said: "Jay was always the guy who lifted our spirits with both his personality and style of play. We really missed him on and off the field."
Jay-Hykel will not feature in the Games' rugby sevens tournament on June 6 and 7 but is desperate to be of service on the bench. "I can be water-boy or assistant physio or whatever they want me to do - I just want to be with the team," the former St Andrew's Secondary student said with a smile.
The date July 18, circled on his calendar, is when his blood-thinning medication ends and he can return to on-field training.
For now, the youngster is on a three-week adaptive programme under the guidance of Declan Halpin, the Singapore Rugby Union's (SRU) strength and conditioning coach.
"In terms of strength, Jay is half of what he used to be," said Halpin, also the head physiotherapist at Radiance PhysioFit.
"We will build up his workout intensity gradually and, hopefully, within a few months, his shirts will be tight once again."
Jay-Hykel's medical expenses came up to around $12,000, covered by insurance and assistance from the SRU.
"What is important for Jay is not to be pressured into coming back too soon," said SRU vice-president Jonathan Leow.
"He should not see it as lost time. There will be more opportunities for him to show his talent in national colours."
Jay-Hykel hopes to don the Reds jersey in the 15-a-side annual Causeway Shield clash against Malaysia here in December.
He said: "Dreaming about how I would play in my return match got me through this difficult period. Now, I am focused on making that dream a reality."
This article was first published on May 19, 2015.
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