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Aaron Slight Speaks
Exclusive by Mark Bracks
"When all this happened the last thing on my mind was bikes, all I was thinking of was living" -- Aaron Slight

thanks, mark bracks

Castrol Honda rider Aaron Slight's life is back on track after recovering from brain surgery in Sydney on Friday February 18. The 34-year-old New Zealander underwent an emergency operation after being diagnosed with a burst blood vessel known in medical circles as a 'arteriovenous malformation' (AVM) or stroke. Slight has unknowingly had the condition since birth with the 'stroke' liable to happen at any time. It has nothing to do with a previous crash or a knock to the head.

Six days after being released from hospital, on Tuesday March 8, Aaron met select members of the media.  

In a relaxed and intimate setting Aaron and his wife Megan explained in detail the difficulty and trauma of last 18 months and what the future holds.

"Early on in testing I lacked concentration," Slight stated. "Even before Christmas when we shared Phillip Island with Yamaha I remember being really close to Colin (Castrol Honda teammate Edwards) and Haga on the straight having doubts in my ability if they got too close and vividly remember thinking 'maybe I shouldn't be out here.'

"At Phillip Island [for the WSC tests] it was like I had a bad cold or something. I went for a surf and I didn't feel too good when I got out of the water." In this condition he managed 200 laps was seventh fastest with a time 0.747 slower than Itoh's fastest time

" When we got to Eastern Creek on the Monday I had double vision really bad. I was going through Turn Four - which has a lot of bumps - and I couldn't see. The only reason I stayed on the track was I knew where the track went but I didn't know where I was on the track, I was riding through instinct, about eight seconds off the pace. I said to the team 'I can't go on today' and went back to the hotel.  That Monday I really panicked went back to the hotel and slept. On Tuesday I woke up with double vision really bad again and drove to Rob's place (good friend Rob Phillis) as Megan was on her way over from home to fly back to England with me. That was pretty silly as I couldn't see the double vision was that bad, driving with one eye open!" 

Carol (Robbie's wife) immediately took him to the specialists at Royal North Shore where the doctor recommended an MRI to scan the brain. On the Wednesday morning scan the AVM was detected  - a 2cm bleed deep in the brain. 

Slight was immediately admitted to Dalcross Private Hospital on Sydney's North Shore for an angiagram and the brain surgery the next day (Friday). "I was freaking out with the angiogram because I had already had a stroke." 
(Angiogram: a diagram resulting from angiography which is a determination of arrangement and character of blood or lymph vessels without dissection as by radiography after injection of a radiopaque substance.)

"The bleeding put pressure on the brain and effected my balance and sight area of the brain. I even had trouble walking. It was almost a relief to find out I had a brain injury, because I was starting to doubt my sanity. That may seem strange but in the last 18 months I had had every test known to man and no one could find anything wrong. Some reckoned I had chronic fatigue while others thought I had glandular fever."

"This has really scared me as the doc said that even when they do an angiogram you can still have a stroke and die but I'd already had the stroke. On the morning of the operation the doc said to me "At least the bleedings stopped' and when I asked him how he knew that, he said ''Cause you're still alive!' "

"It was a pretty intense operation as they had to probe deep through the brain matter cut the vessels and remove the damaged tissue. It was never working before so having it removed will make no difference, it ensures that it won't happen again. Normally they just glue the piece of skull back in but because of my trade he put a few screws in there as well!"  

The four- hour operation was an immediate success. "As soon as I woke the double vision was gone and I thought 'Great I can race in South Africa! But realistically I want to race at Phillip Island. My recovery has been so rapid that it has become my personal goal to be back for the Australian race. South Africa is a bit out of the question but anyone can go into a season with two DNFs and still come out on top. Australia's the closest thing I have to a home race and a lot of Kiwis come to the event"

"I would not jeopardize my health to jump back on a bike but if my recovery continues at the same rate, racing at the Island is realistic."

Slight has to satisfy the FIM neuro-surgeon before he can be re-issued his racing license and may be required to fly to London to undergo tests. It has been announced that Castrol -Honda have signed Simon Crafar for the opening three races in South Africa, Australia and Japan. "The doctors are worried about the flying, but the dehydration," Slight comments.

 The past 18 months have been a literal hell for the popular Kiwi as he suffered in silence, no doctors anywhere in the world able to diagnose his condition. A contributing factor to the time it took to diagnose the problem was the nomadic lifestyle of racers moving from one country to another. "That's the biggest frustration for Aussies and Kiwis in Europe we don't have a home to go to when the race is over. After so many doctors not finding anything I stopped looking for awhile."

The condition became life threatening when the Castrol Hondas team moved to Eastern Creek after the official SBK tests at Phillip Island in early February.

Now there are only positive signs for the future with Slight ready to race again and (depending on the FIM neurosurgeon) to take his place on the grid at the second round of the 2000 Superbike World Championship at Phillip Island on April 21-23.

"This has buggered me for the last 18 months," explained Slight. "I've just not felt my normal self for a year or more. Now I now the reason why I really want to go out there and give it a thrash.

"From the beginning of '99 I didn't feel sharp and it went on all year. Early in the year I had tests in Italy before the Misano round and after the last race in Sugo I went back to New Zealand for tests but nothing showed up there either. I didn't feel myself I wasn't feeling sharp at all and the most frustrating thing was that no one could find anything wrong with me. 

"I was getting the vibe that I was slowing up but keeping on the pace kept me going as I was getting the results but I didn't feel sharp. I didn't care about bikes I just wanted to live and when I couldn't get interested in riding the new bike.
Racing last year I was just following people. In practice and qualifying I could put two or three laps together and that was it. Superpole wasn't a problem as it was one one lap but stringing laps together was impossible."

 "It was almost a relief when they told me what was wrong at least I had found something. I saw the doctor yesterday and he said I'm in great shape, there will be no problem of me racing this year and after what I went through last year, at the final round I still had a mathematical chance of winning the championship and I had this condition.

"I am feeling so much better now I can't describe it. It's like my third racing life; before my hand injury, after my hand injury - when I wasn't supposed to race again - and now another career after this brain operation."

"At the moment I'm going through stages of having good days and then on the fourth day I have a bit of a downer which is frustrating but it my body adjusting to what's happened. If this was Sunday there is no way I would be talking to you. The other day I sat beside the pool, I didn't eat, I didn't sleep, I didn't talk, I didn't read - I just sat there for five hours and stared at the pool with nothing happening in my brain, nothing. 
With a physical injury like my hand you can use another but with something like this there's nothing and sometimes there has been nothing there, but every day its getting better and better.

"I know I can get back to my old self and I'm well on the way I haven't felt this good in nearly two years. In 99 I felt like shit and at the last round I still had a mathematical chance of winning the championship so how will I go now that I'm all fixed. I beat Colin in the last five races so that is a good boost. "

"At the moment I'm not looking beyond 2000 but if I have to delay my comeback that much I'll have to re-evaluate the future. At least I'm looking that far ahead. Last week all I had was a two-hour plan.

Now his biggest hurdle is satisfying the intense testing that the FIM neurosurgeon will put him through but realistically if the FIM was to withhold his license it should've done it last year when he was suffering from the condition.
Now the condition has been repaired there should be no reason why he is not passed fit and to start his charge to that elusive Superbike World Championship.

Slight and his wife Megan returned to New Zealand late last week where he will continue his rehabilitation until he is fit enough to return to the Castrol Honda team.

"It is amazing the letters of support we've had and the different outlook from people that have been through this and how they dealt with it. It's really been encouraging and I'd just like to thank everyone from around the world who has sent on their support. It's been wonderful."

next: slight's wife reacts

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