As Cody Tomuri fought to stay alive, the words of his surgeon rang in his ears: "You're a fighter. If anyone can beat this, it's you. Those kids of yours, they're beautiful - they need you."
Tomuri twice fought at the world Muay Thai kickboxing championships during a 13-year, 30-bout amateur career. But the toughest challenge for the Masterton father of two was a haemorrhaging blood vessel near his brain which, doctors said, should have killed him.
Tomuri, 35, a former pool lifeguard, calls his brush with death "the hardest fight of my life".
One night last November, he came home from training at his Queen St Muay Thai gym and was hit by a violent headache. Inside his head, a weak spot in an artery wall had given way, blown up like a balloon and burst - flooding the inside of his skull with blood and squeezing his brain.
A surgeon later told him it was one of the worst aneurysm bleeds he had seen.
He was flown by helicopter to Wellington Hospital for an emergency craniotomy - a procedure like opening a "small trapdoor" in the skull, according to neurosurgeon Andrew Parker, who performed it.
The burst blood vessel was located and sealed with a tiny "bulldog clip", but the danger was far from over. After the surgery, Tomuri's parents were told to say their goodbyes - but he refused to go, spurred on by Parker's words.
He came to a week later. Parker told him he'd survived a "grade 4 bleed". "I asked him what that meant and he said, ‘Death'."
Tomuri became a minor hospital celebrity, with staff wanting to meet "the man who beat the bleed".
"[Parker] goes to me, if I was you, mate, I'd go and buy a Lotto ticket because you don't know what you've just beaten."
Parker said one in 10,000 people could expect a haemorrhaging cerebral aneurysm and, of those, half would die "stone dead on the spot". Of the others, half were left badly disabled.
There was no evidence of a link between kickboxing and Tomuri's illness, which was more likely to have resulted from a genetic predisposition. In fact, his "miracle" recovery was probably down to his extreme fitness. "He was one of the fittest patients we're ever likely to see . . . the stronger you are, the better you do."
Tomuri has a scar, a permanent limp and some balance problems, but no memory loss or speech impediment. He trains youngsters and adults in general self-defence and Muay Thai.
- The Dominion Post
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