Triathlete son of ex-Prem ref returns thanks to ‘Halo’ screwed into his skull

LYING on a hospital bed, stricken triathlete Tim Don winced as doctors began to drill a fifth hole into his SKULL — without a general anaesthetic.

The British Ironman had reached rock bottom in his rehab from a horror road crash in Hawaii which left him with a metal support ‘Halo’ bolted into his head, to stop him dying from a broken neck.

 Triathlete Tim Don had five screws inserted into his skull 12 months ago for a metal halo

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Triathlete Tim Don had five screws inserted into his skull 12 months ago for a metal halo

He was in constant agony as the four titanium screws holding the contraption in place kept coming loose.

Don, the 40-year-old son of former Premier League referee Philip Don, recalled: “The pain was extreme, excruciating.

“Once I was given a strong painkilling drug but I still threw up and I couldn’t move my head.

“I remember saying to my wife, Kelly, I was going to get an Allen key out of the garage and take this damn thing off my head.

 Don, pictured finishing an Ironman in Germany in July, is back for Saturday's Ironman Triathlon World Championships

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Don, pictured finishing an Ironman in Germany in July, is back for Saturday's Ironman Triathlon World Championships
 His comeback is one of the most remarkable stories in sport

Getty Images – Getty
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His comeback is one of the most remarkable stories in sport
 He is the son of former Premier League referee Philip Don

PA:Empics Sport
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He is the son of former Premier League referee Philip Don

“Just before Christmas, the screws kept coming loose. Doctors were worried if they tightened them more they would go deeper into my skull.

“They were worried it might puncture my brain. For tightening they wouldn’t give me any anaesthetic, so I simply had to bite down.

“In the end, they drilled a fifth hole into my head for stability.

“They only gave me a local anaesthetic, but you need lots of flesh to absorb the liquid.

 The screws in Don's skull kept coming loose, leaving him in agony

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The screws in Don's skull kept coming loose, leaving him in agony
 Don was given no anaesthetic as doctors tightened the screws

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Don was given no anaesthetic as doctors tightened the screws

“On your forehead there isn’t much flesh to absorb it, so it was incredibly painful. There were down days in my recovery where you think, ‘Oh my God, I can’t go on, this is too much’.”

Incredibly, however, Don has made such a miraculous recovery that, next Saturday, he will return to Hawaii to COMPETE in the gruelling Ironman Triathlon World Championships — just 12 months after cheating death.

It is one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history.

The father of two survived by just a few millimetres after fracturing his C2 vertebrae — called a ‘Hangman’s fracture’ — in a freak collision three days before last year’s event.

 The father of two survived by just a few millimetres after fracturing his C2 vertebrae

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The father of two survived by just a few millimetres after fracturing his C2 vertebrae
 He will compete at the event in Hawaii again on Saturday

Getty Images – Getty
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He will compete at the event in Hawaii again on Saturday
 The comeback is one of the most remarkable stories in sport

Getty Images – Getty
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The comeback is one of the most remarkable stories in sport

The race favourite was riding in a cycle lane on Kona when he was hit by a car turning into a petrol station.

Don said: “If I thought, ‘Oh God, this guy has ruined my life’, I’d only get angry. It’s better to think, ‘I can walk, I’m not paralysed and I’m lucky I’m alive’.”

Londoner Don, who now lives in Boulder, Colorado, should have retired from the sport after the crash, grateful he had made three Olympic Games and won four world titles.

Doctors in the US said it would take 18 months for him just to regain 80 per cent of his range of motion.

 Don has made three Olympic Games and won four world titles

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Don has made three Olympic Games and won four world titles
 Doctors had told him he would regain just 80 per cent of his range of motion

Getty – Contributor
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Doctors had told him he would regain just 80 per cent of his range of motion
 Don ended up wearing the £11,000 halo for three months

Getty – Contributor
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Don ended up wearing the £11,000 halo for three months

Yet it is testament to his character and determination that he persevered with the £11,000 Halo contraption for THREE months. In the early weeks wearing the Halo — only half a dozen are fitted each year around the world — he had to be dressed, showered and fed by his patient wife, Kelly.

Remarkably, within weeks he was in the gym, determined to resume his sporting career as quickly as possible.

 Don is preparing for a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run

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Don is preparing for a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run

In April, six months after the accident, he completed the Boston Marathon in 2hr 49min 42sec. And on Saturday the former world record-holder returns to Hawaii as he bids to become world Ironman champ again.

He added: “Being on that start line means everything. I’m racing for myself and my family.”

For many, the thought of preparing for a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run would be terrifying.

Yet Don’s desire to return has been fired by financial necessity.

He said: “If I was 35, maybe I wouldn’t have rushed back. But I’m 40. If I took a year off, I might not have been sponsored or earned prize money, bonuses, appearance money. We don’t make footballers’ money.”

Don hopes his story can send a positive message to people trying to cope with their own struggles.

He said: “I get embarrassed when people say I’m inspirational. I’m just fighting for something I love to do.

“I’m not thinking I’m a fantastic role model. But if people read my story and it gives them hope and strength when they’re having tough times, that’s definitely a big bonus.”

LYING on a hospital bed, stricken triathlete Tim Don winced as doctors began to drill a fifth hole into his SKULL — without a general anaesthetic.