Soccer fanatic James Pursell is coming to terms with the fact he may never be able to play the sport again.
The 21-year-old northeast Victorian player is recovering in a Melbourne hospital after having open heart surgery to replace his aortic valve.
Pursell's pulmonary valve was due to be transferred across and replaced by a donor valve but when scans showed the pulmonary valve was bicuspid - having only two flaps instead of three - that plan was scuppered.
A mechanical valve was inserted instead and while the operation was a success, Pursell will be on blood-thinners for the rest of his life.
And the subsequent risk of developing blood clots if he were to play soccer again means Pursell will likely have to hang up his boots.
"He's that passionate about soccer, he literally lives and breathes it," Pursell's father Paul explained.
"He loves the game so much and I know, having found out that he has got the mechanical valve, he's been pretty upset.
"It probably hasn't hit home yet and might not until he gets back home and things are a little bit more normal and he can't do those things he was doing before."
Pursell last played for the Savoy just over a week ago and scored in their 2-0 win over Albury City.
"He said 'if I die on the soccer field, I'll die happy,'" Paul said.
"We saw a photograph of him the other week and I sent it to my wife and said 'have a look at this' because it's the epitome of how James loves soccer so much.
"It was such an unforced smile, it was so natural.
"He hates getting photos taken but I can't ever remember seeing him with a smile on his face as much as in this photo."
Pursell is out of intensive care and has been moved to the cardiac ward at the Warringal Private Hospital in Heidelberg, Melbourne.
"It's been a real rollercoaster," Paul said.
"Both my wife and I, and his sister, we feel so much for James because we so wanted this original procedure to work for him.
"We know how much he loves soccer and to take that away from him may not sound a lot but when it's something you absolutely love and it gets taken away, that's what James is feeling.
"We were told it was a matter of time before he needed this heart surgery but we didn't think it would ever happen as early as this.
"It's been horrendous.
"We've known he's had this issue since he was very young and it's been really rough.
"As time goes on, that's going to be the next big hurdle we'll have to overcome with him, getting through that to a stage where he does accept 'that (soccer) is not part of my life any more.'
"That's something we've talked about over the last 18 months or so.
"If he transfers his enthusiasm as a player across to anything else he does, he's definitely going to succeed because he's got so much passion, and people around the club will say the same.
"If you could combine that passion with kids who have got some absolute talent, you'd have world-beaters."
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Pursell didn't start playing competitive soccer until he was 15, starting with Myrtleford but pursuing a higher standard and applying to Melbourne City's academy at John Fawkner College in Melbourne.
He spent time with NPL clubs Murray United and GV Suns, going on to play for Shepparton South in the Bendigo League before rejoining the Savoy.
Pursell also represented the Albury-Wodonga Football Association at under-16 level and tasted victory at the Victorian Country Championships.
"You wouldn't know (he had the condition) because he'd push through it," Paul said.
"I don't think he's ever been in any pain because the condition is quite asymptomatic. At the start of the year he said to me 'I'm the fittest at the club and I'm the one with the heart condition'.
"James has been up walking around (in the hospital), doing a little bit of exercise.
"He still gets very tired but to see him in that condition after having open-heart surgery just a few days ago is incredible."
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