Exclusive by Mark Bracks
"When all this happened the last
thing on my mind was bikes, all I was thinking of was living" -- Aaron
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
" 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
"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,"
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
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."
slight's wife reacts
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