Paralympian David Smith has thanked supporters as he prepares for surgery he fears could leave him paralysed.
Mr Smith, 37, won gold in rowing at the London Paralympics in 2012 and hoped to compete in Rio this summer in cycling, despite learning that a tumour on his spine had returned.
He planned to put off surgery until after Rio but was warned that the growing tumour is just 8mm from his spine and if left will crush his spinal cord and stop him breathing.
He recorded a video from his hospital bed hours before going in for life-saving surgery today and posted it on YouTube, saying: “Surgery is now here, like any race in life I feel best prepared but also pretty scared.”
The tumour is supplied by a single blood vessel which controls his breathing.
He added: “It’s going to be a pretty challenging day in surgery to try to remove it all. It’s going to be tough but I’m positive. I’ve read every message and that’s given me so much strength. I’ve just got two hours left now and that will be it, into surgery for that day.
“Thanks so much for everything and all the love.”
Arriving in hospital, he told supporters he expects to have to learn to walk again when he comes round after the operation – his fourth round of surgery on the tumour.
In a previous blogpost he spoke of the uncertainty of surgery: “To walk along that corridor, and climb on to the table to close my eyes once again, not knowing if you will ever open them again, or when you do, will you be able to stand or will you be paralysed from the neck down.”
Mr Smith, from Aviemore, won gold following two operations on his spine and was briefly paralysed after surgery in 2010 which involved cutting into his spinal cord and removing three vertebrae.
Although initially unable to walk, he was determined to return to sport and, as complications caused by the surgery ruled out rowing, he turned to paracycling instead – setting his sights on Rio.
He was born with a club foot but represented Great Britain in able-bodied karate between 1993-9 and bobsleigh from 2002-8 before turning to paralympic events. He was awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours’ list in 2012.