PROMISING Apollo Bay footballer Tristan Smith considers himself lucky despite developing a disease which threatened to prematurely end his sporting career.
The 16-year-old was suffering from random swelling in his right ankle while trialling with the Geelong Falcons over the pre-season.
Five trips to hospital later and doctors were still uncertain what was causing the swelling, until a biopsy revealed that Smith had pigmented villonodular synovitis, or PVNS.
The joint disease causes inflammation and overgrowth of the joint lining, which can cause painful movement.
The disease forced Smith to have surgery and will sideline the gun midfielder until late in the season, but he said he considered himself lucky to have picked up on the disease before it developed further.
“It’s a joint disease, PVNS, it grows little tumours on the tendon sheath, so I had to get that whole sheath removed to remove all the tumours,” he said.
“But I’m definitely relieved that we got on top of it.
“If I had have left it then down the track I might not be playing sport at all, which would have killed me, because I can’t live without sport.”
Smith, who was part of Apollo Bay’s breakthrough under-17.5 grand final team last year, had impressed Geelong Falcons officials during the pre-season before the random swellings began.
He said the swelling got so bad some days that it restricted him from walking.
“The first diagnosis was that I’d twisted it in my sleep,” he said.
“After going to the doctors about five times they sent me in for a biopsy, they took samples and studied that and came to the conclusion that it was PVNS.
“It was a big shock, I wasn’t expecting it to be this big, but we had no idea what it was.”
Smith spent two nights in hospital after the successful surgery in February.
He wore a cast on the leg for two weeks, and a moon boot for the following month, and is now building strength back before a potential return to the football field later this year.
“I’ve got to go back to hospital for a review in six weeks, and then I’ll think about returning to football,” Smith said.
“It’s disappointing to miss so much footy because it had been a long and hard pre-season,” he said.
“But my focus is on the long term at the moment, I don’t want any setbacks, so I’ll make sure it’s 100 per cent before I return.”