In an emotional talk on his battle with ulcerative colitis, Darren Fletcher has revealed the crippling nature of the illness.
The Manchester United midfielder has admitted that he was, at first, blasé about his condition – claiming that his status as a Premier League footballer left him feeling “untouchable”, but the severity of the condition soon became apparent.
Fletcher's career was hanging in the balance after he was forced to undergo surgery to cure a medical condition that had bothered him since 2010.
Had the procedure not worked, the 30-year-old's life as he knew it would have been shattered.
Happily, that particular story had a positive outcome, allowing Fletcher to resume his career at Aston Villa in December, since when the Scot has gone on to make eight appearances, including skippering the Red Devils in their League Cup semi-final against Sunderland.
His inspirational story provides an obvious example for youngsters affected in a similar way to follow.
"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."
Fletcher’s illness saw a inevitable drop in form, with Manchester United first only stating that the Scotland captain had struggled with a virus to protect his medical confidentiality.
"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."
However, Fletcher remains the hard-nosed professional he always was which is why his overriding concern is improving United's season rather than accepting the congratulations for what he has personally achieved.
"I don't want to settle for mediocrity, to settle for just being happy," said Fletcher. "That is a dangerous mindset to get into.
"Although I would probably have every right to do that, I don't want to. I still want to push myself because I realise that there is nothing stopping me now.
"I want success for this club. I want to help achieve things with this club. I am hurting just as much as everyone else at present. I am not just happy to be back and don't care.
"There is a real determination around the place - and it is no different for me."
Fletcher helped launch 'United for Colitis', the brainchild of Alex McLeish's son Jon - another sufferer - at the Red Devils' Training Centre, a new fundraising initiative in aid of parent charity - Crohn's and Colitis UK.
Along with former England rugby captain Lewis Moody, the Scot will host the first United for Colitis event - a Charity Dinner to be held at Old Trafford on March 27, which will be supported by Sir Alex Ferguson and many of Fletcher's first-team colleagues.
By then the midfielder hopes United's fortunes will have improved markedly, and he will have played a major part.
The defending champions are currently seventh in the Premier League, 15 points behind leaders Arsenal and seven adrift of the top four. United are also out of both domestic cup competitions.
"When people ask me if I am more appreciative of my job I always say 'no'. I always realised how fortunate I was to be a professional footballer and play for Manchester United," he said.
"I know how hard I worked to get here and I am not willing to let that go away quickly."
With under-fire manager David Moyes and his coaching team in Greece to watch Champions League opponents Olympiacos overcome Panionios 2-0 on Wednesday, Fletcher spoke with authority at how he was working his way through a bucket list of aspirations - including a return to European action.
Moyes, Round, Neville & Lumsden watching our Champions League opponents Olympiacos right now. pic.twitter.com/xjneOp3bco
— Man Utd FF (@ManUtdFF) February 5, 2014
"I am ticking them off as I get to different points," he said. "First it was to come back, then my first start, playing in Europe, all those things.
"As a professional you need that motivation. At this club we win the title and say 'yeah great, go and do it again next season'.
"Even when I finish my checklist, I will go and do it again. I have always been brought up that way. That is the way this club is."
And for Fletcher, who may be recalled for Scotland's friendly in Poland next month, it is also about assuming responsibility and offering support to younger team-mates who have never known anything like the struggles experienced at Old Trafford this season.
"I have been through situations of not having success and being written off," he said.
"I am telling the younger ones that we have been here before. You have to keep that belief inside yourself and use it as a fuel to prove them wrong. That is what I tried to do.
"You are always proving yourself at Manchester United, whether it be in the team, becoming more experienced, coming back from illness.
"That is the challenge of playing for this club. It is about reiterating to the younger players that they have to believe in themselves, work extra hard, keep digging in and their quality will come through."
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