Man United's Darren Fletcher explains ulcerative colitis illness
Manchester United's Darren Fletcher has revealed the true extent of the debilitating illness that has disrupted the last three years of his career.
Fletcher was diagnosed with chronic bowel disease ulcerative colitis in 2011 but has returned after surgery.
"You can be running to the toilet 10, 20, 30 times a day and losing a lot of blood," said the Scotland midfielder.
"I ended up in hospital a couple of times on an IV drip. Surgery enabled me to be here today. I'm very fortunate."
“I've got young children and just trying to be a dad was very difficult”
Fletcher first noticed the problem in 2008 but it was not until two years later that it began to have a detrimental impact on his life and career.
"I remember when I was first diagnosed being very blasé about it - looking back now that was quite immature," said the 30-year-old.
"But as a professional footballer playing in the Premier League for Manchester United I felt on top of the world, I felt untouchable.
"I stayed silent until about 2011 or 2012 because it's not something you generally talk about, the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. My close family and friends knew, but nobody else knew at the club.
"I found it difficult, making up stories for reasons why I wasn't at training, why I was looking ill, why I was feeling ill, why I was rushing off to the bathroom. Basically lying to people's faces.
"Once I started talking about it and making it public knowledge it was such a relief; it was the best thing I did."
Fletcher made only one start for United in the final two months of the 2010-11 season and appeared just 10 times the next campaign.
It was announced in December 2011 he would take an extended break from the game and he finally underwent surgery in January 2013.
"The surgery was a success, I'm better now," explained an emotional Fletcher. "I'm living a normal life and back playing football.
Darren Fletcher's career
- Age: 30
- Man Utd appearances: 318
- Man Utd goals: 23
- Scotland appearances: 61
- Scotland goals: 7
- Honours: 4 Premier League titles (2007, 2008, 2009, 2011), 1 FA Cup (2004), 2 League Cups (2006, 2010), 1 Champions League (2008), 1 World Club Cup (2008)
"I can't have any relapses now. I'm not going to have episodes where I get extremely ill, get taken to hospital or have a breakdown at any moment. I've got a routine that I stick to and it's working fine.
"There are no guarantees with surgery, but it has enabled me to be back playing for Manchester United and feeling great."
Fletcher returned to action in United's 3-0 win at Aston Villa on 15 December and has featured in seven of their subsequent 12 matches.
At the height of his illness, the Scot was barely able to leave his own home, but he never lost hope of resuming his career.
"I've got young children and just trying to be a dad was very difficult," admitted Fletcher, who was speaking at the launch of United for Colitis in aid of Crohn's and Colitis UK. "Doing simple stuff like taking them to the park and going to watch them play football.
"But I always had the belief that I'd be back playing. Although doctors and specialists made me aware there was a real possibility that I would never play again, I never got into that mindset.
"If I was to accept that then I might not be sitting here today. Although I was prepared to stop playing for the greater good of my health, I was fortunate to find out that playing football wasn't making me ill.
"I was able to come through that and to be back playing football is a really nice moment, something I'm really enjoying.
"But I can't just settle for being happy to be back and being a bit-part player. I want to be playing every game, being an important part of the team, playing for Scotland, winning trophies and achieving success.
"I've definitely got a mindset of making up for lost time."