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Ant Walker back at the highest level after brain condition diagnosis forced retirement

ANTHONY Walker has plenty of thinking to do as Wales aim for a shock quarter final against England.

Not as much as he did, though, after having to retire because of a potentially fatal brain condition.

Anthony Walker (being tackled) is back playing in a World Cup after having to retire after being diagnosed with a brain condition

A 22-point win over Papua New Guinea tonight will see John Kear’s Dragons – who have impressed against Cook Islands and Tonga – overhaul the Kumuls and finish second in Group D.

Defying expectations, however, is what Walker has done to even be on a pitch again.

The prop’s bags were packed and he was heading Down Under for 2017’s World Cup – a diagnosis of an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) stopped him in his tracks.

Immediate retirement followed, then radiotherapy. Now after getting the all clear, he is back after signing paperwork stating he knows what could happen should anything go awry.

Walker said about the tangle of blood vessels that connects arteries and veins: “It was two days before I was to travel. I went for a scan and the doctor said, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news.

“’The good news is you’ve passed all your tests, the bad news is I’ve found this.’ He basically just retired me there and then.

“I’d had it since birth and I never knew I did. It was like a ball of blood and if it burst, it could be catastrophic. One in 250,000 people have these but of that, one in 50 die every year.

“It was either open-brain surgery to cut it out or radiotherapy – I didn’t want to be awake while someone messed with my brain!

“One dose of radiotherapy takes two years to work, then I had a scan and it was clear to see it was gone.

Walker had to sign a waiver to even start playing again

“I never really dropped out of the game. I coached a bit at Rochdale and my amateur team, Blackbrook. I was always going to come back.”

Scans may have been clear but to complete his return, Walker had to make one last commitment – one that proved he knew what he was doing and there would be no comeback if things go wrong.

The 30-year-old, who plays at Widnes, added: “The Rugby Football League asked me to sign a waiver that basically said, ‘Even though it’s not there, you’re playing at your own risk. If something happens to that part of the brain, you know all the risks.’

“My insurance premiums are a lot higher than everyone else’s!”

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