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A man diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome says playing Football Manager helped save his life.
Sharad "Sasha" Vemalanathan, a writer from Kuala Lumpur, had just completed his degree at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, USA, when his life was turned upside down.
"I remember it vividly," Sharad tells SPORTbible.
"I was watching the TV on my sofa chair when my legs went numb. I tried to walk to the kitchen and make myself a drink but after pushing myself up, my knees buckled and I fell headfirst onto the floor.
"I then realised that I had no control over my entire body from the neck down and passed out. This occurred for the next few hours as I could hear my mobile ringing from my bedroom upstairs. At the time, I was living by myself because my housemate had recently moved.
"Using my wrists and fingernails, I dragged myself up the stairs and crawled into my bedroom. I rang the last person I spoke with previously and begged him to call an ambulance. As I heard them arriving, I fell face first down the stairs and managed to crawl forward to unlock the front door.
"As they ran in, I mumbled that I couldn't move. I didn't know what was wrong."
The 34-year-old was later diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome; a very rare and serious condition that affects the nerves.
Although it can be treated and most people will eventually make a full recovery, it can occasionally be life-threatening, with some sufferers being left with long-term problems.
"Doctors simply explained that I had 'won the genetic lottery'. There was nothing I could have done to prevent it from happening."
The condition removes your muscle mass and in Sharad's case, it took away his sensation to feel from the chest down. But one of the other symptoms was short-term memory loss.
Sharad had to learn how to walk, eat and write all over again.
"I was sweating profusely despite the air conditioning and shorts but the worst part was not physical. I could not retain any new information after three minutes and I would lose whatever memory I had whenever I fell asleep.
"My despair inevitably led to anger. The constant memory loss, confusion and pain was overwhelming. There were days when it felt like I could not breathe. They were really dark times. I almost wanted to die. I had to very quickly come to the realisation that my life was never going to be the same again.
"I hid myself away. I stopped communication with my family and friends who promised to come see me as soon as they 'had an opening in their schedule' but ultimately never did. I was so lonely and in a world of pain that no one could understand."
Sharad was in a bad way so he flew home to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and soon, he decided to try his luck and power up a game of Football Manager for the first time since his symptoms began appearing.
As the loading screen flashed across his screen, he quickly rediscovered a love for the game... and his memory.
"I began remembering formations, training exercises, how to rotate my squad, balancing out the finances, improving the facilities, keeping the board and fans happy - and even almost instinctively knew which tactics to play against specific teams," he says.
"My doctors were amazed as while I previously could not recall the day of the week, or even the film I had just watched, I was now able to make cognitive decisions that no medical staff were able to breach.
"I recall telling my mum about the game, who agreed that not only was my attention and strength coming back but threads of my old personality were beginning to shine through as well. I was less angry, and genuinely more positive.
"I believe that the game was able to heal my fractured mind and in doing so, made me stronger as a person."
Sharad says Football Manager "almost immediately" improved his memory and naturally, that improved his overall mood.
"It made me want to bounce back against this unforgiving disease which almost took my life away. My smile came back and I truly began to believe I could survive this disease."
After many months of gruelling physiotherapy, occupational therapy and hydrotherapy, Sharad eventually beat the odds and said farewell to his wheelchair.
"On my good days, few people actually notice my limp," he says. "Don't get me wrong, I'll never be able to attain the status of professional ballerina moving forward, but I am alive."
In the final minutes of our chat, I asked Sharad if he wanted to send a message to the those behind the scenes at Football Manager. It was an emotional moment.
"Firstly, are you lads hiring?" he laughed. "But, in all seriousness... Thank you. Thank you for what you do. Thank you all for everything you do.
"A franchise like Football Manager is not just composed of one individual nor one team, but a host of talented professionals across the world from a plethora of unique backgrounds, skill sets and life experiences who strive year-after-year to give the fans the best footballing experience behind a computer screen.
"You do not produce computer simulations. You make magic. Thank you."
Featured Image Credit: Sharad "Sasha" Vemalanathan
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