Papua New Guinea Hunters rugby league player Jokadi Bire has confirmed his retirement from the game after undergoing lifesaving heart surgery.
The 22 year old centre was admitted to Gold Coast University Hospital on 15 June after falling ill at the start of a team weights session.
He was quickly diagnosed with a serious heart problem and underwent emergency surgery later that day.
He was discharged from hospital in July and has been told that he can now expect to live a full life, but the rising star is coming to terms with the fact that he can never play rugby league again.
Speaking publicly about his health scare for the first time, Bire said he had woken up ok as usual and did not feel anything strange until heading off to complete his workout.
"At around noon I went to the gym to do my weights," he said.
"I did my rehab with the team and we moved straight into our weights exercises. As I was doing my weights exercise, I felt a bit dizzy and found it a bit difficult to speak."
The Hunters called paramedics who arrived at the gym and quickly diagnosed symptoms of a stroke.
After being rushed to hospital he underwent brain scans which showed the stroke had been caused by a tear in Bire's aorta, which meant his life was beginning to ebb away.
He was rushed into surgery for a nine-hour operation that would save his life, and his aortic valve was replaced with a mechanical valve.
The former Lae Snax Tigers star was placed in a coma for three days after the surgery and spent a week in the hospital's intensive care unit before being moved to the cardiac ward for two weeks. He would spend another two weeks in the neuro rehabilitation ward before finally being cleared to rejoin his Hunters' team-mates.
"Thank you Lord for giving me a second chance and thank you Lord for everything that has ever happened to me," he said.
"Rugby league allowed me to come here - right next to the hospital. If I had not been here, the outcome might not have been the same for me.
"It was a very quick time from feeling sick to getting operated on. The team at the Gold
Coast University Hospital were incredible. They saved me. I know some patients have died in hospital with this condition. Lucky for me. Thank you to all the staff. I can't thank them enough."
Bire earned a spot in the Hunters squad after starring in last year's Digicel Cup domestic competition in PNG, scoring 11 tries for beaten finalists Lae.
He made an instant impression in the Intrust Super Cup, scoring eight tries in 10 appearances before falling ill, and admitted it has taken some time to accept his burgeoning rugby league career is now over.
"Being a kid from the settlement, it was my dream to play professional rugby league but
unfortunately my career is shortened due to the illness," he said.
"When I heard the result from the doctors that I cannot play, I didn't accept it at first. It's difficult. Most of my fans were expecting me to play again. That hurts because I wanted to play well for them. I know there are other small kids like me who want to play also.
"My family is very heartbroken as well. We have grown up in a poor settlement and every day we are striving for success."
Bire was raised in Kundiawa but his people are from nearby Salt Nomane in Chimbu. As he began to recover in hospital, he stayed in contact with his brother Shalom, who plays for the Port Moresby Vipers in the Digicel Cup and way able to relay news of his condition to family and friends as they prayed for his recovery.
Jokadi is continuing to improve at the Hunters' training base at Runaway Bay and intends to remain involved within the rugby league community in the years ahead.
He will return to Papua New Guinea with the Hunters squad at later this month and will graduate from the PNG University of Technology with a degree in electrical engineering.
"I'm lucky. I know that," he said.
"I have much to be grateful for including the support of my family, my team-mates and the many people who sent me messages of support. That meant a lot to me. Thank you."