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I nearly died - but now I'm diving for Olympic glory
HE is the teenage Olympian who cheated death before qualifying for London 2012.
Chris Mears was given only a five per cent chance of survival after rupturing his spleen during the Australian Youth Olympic Festival in Sydney in January 2009.
But the Southampton Diving Academy star will be competing for Great Britain at the London Aquatic Centre in Olympic Park in just 15 days’ time.
It is a remarkable achievement considering his chances of survival were so slim during his darkest hours, three-and-a-half years ago.
The drama began when Mears, who was in his final year at school, had a fit in his hotel room.
“It started with me having glandular fever without knowing it,” he explains. “I was still training and diving as usual because I didn’t have any symptoms.
“My throat didn’t swell up but my other glands had risen up considerably. My insides were very compact and my organs had been into funny positions.
“I was putting stress on my body when I should have been resting and that caused my spleen to rupture.”
It was several hours later that Mears was properly diagnosed and by then it was nearly too late.
“I had two mini seizures so a doctor was called but I wasn’t getting any better.
“Fortunately, an ambulance was able to be there within a couple of minutes.
But six hours later they still couldn’t understand what was wrong and why I was losing blood.
“They didn’t know what to do with me. Either way, I was going to die so they cut me open to find my spleen in shreds. I’d lost five litres of blood.
“Because they’d left it to the last minute my chances of survival were only five per cent.
“I broke a few records for the hospital.
My platelet count, which helps the blood to clot and is supposed to be 300- 400, was down to two. The previous lowest they had counted on a survivor was 25! My spleen was removed and I was in intensive care for a week. I was being kept alive by drugs, it was a slow climb back.”
Mears was grateful for the support of his family. Having undergone the splenectomy, Mears was back in hospital on his 16th birthday.
“A few days later I had a seizure that lasted seven hours and was in a coma for three days!
“It was scary when I woke up to be told that it was Thursday as I was adamant it was still Monday!
“Most people would have been left brain dead or disabled but being healthy changed the outcome.”
The support of his family also helped.
“It was hardest for my parents,”
says Chris. “My dad, Paul, was working in Dubai at the time so he was first to get there.
“My mum, Katy, joined him with my sister, who was due to sit a uni exam that day. They wanted to be out there whatever happened.”
Their support was recognised earlier this month when Paul Mears carried the Olympic torch in Essex.
He was nominated by British Olympic Association chief Lord Colin Moynihan, who himself held an all-night vigil at Chris’s bedside at the beginning of the ordeal. Within a few months, Mears was sitting his GCSEs.
“It put my life in perspective and I just concentrated on passing my exams , which I did.
“I was intending to have a normal life and go to sixth form but when I next went to the pool I knew I wasn’t an academic and that I still wanted to dive.
“I didn't go to college, this is what I do full-time as I want to give diving the best possible shot.”
Life without a spleen means Mears has to be extra disciplined, even by the standards of Olympians, to fight off illness.
He suffered a bout of tonsillitis shortly before the 2010 Commonwealth Games in India but he and his 3m synchro partner Nick Robinson-Baker still finished just out of the medals in fourth.
It was another big step in his development, which has also been aided by the expert tutelage of Lindsey Fraser and Xinde Zhang at The Quays in Southampton.
Mears has been commuting down from Reading up to six days a week to ensure he is at his best for his home Olympics .
“Fortunately I passed my driving test a few months ago as getting the train was a nightmare!” he laughs.
Mears now has his sights set on competing in the 3m synchro with Robinson-Baker on August 1, before the individual event begins five days later.
“This has been my most consistent year so far, so bring on the future,” he says.
“You never know what could happen with the crowd behind me so hopefully I’ll do my coach and family proud.
“It’s going to be the best time of our lives and there’ll be no stress for me.
“I just think of it as a celebration.
After everything I’ve been through I’m just going to enjoy it.”