Then, in 2012, at only 29-years-old, he suffered a massive heart attack whilst on an exercise bike during training at the Scarlets.
The heart attack caused irreparable damage to his heart. Only the prompt care of the medical staff at Parc y Scarlets and specialists at Swansea Morriston Hospital who performed a quadruple heart bypass saved his life.
The following 12 months Rhys’ health deteriorated dramatically and he was told unless he had an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) pump fitted, he would be lucky to survive another year. Fitting the LVAD pump was high-risk surgery in itself, with only a 50% chance of survival.
In 2014, Rhys had the surgery – it was carried out by three leading heart surgeons and the LVAD pump was fitted after a grueling 14 hours in surgery. Rhys didn’t wake up for 2 weeks post-op. When he came to he was presented with his new way of living- a battery-powered half-man-half-machine. He struggled to come to terms with his new reality and loss of identity, causing his mental health to deteriorate rapidly. The trauma Rhys suffered over these years around his health led him to a battle with alcohol addiction.
He drank heavily, living life so recklessly that he nearly died countless times, primarily due to the fact that his mechanical heart is battery powered and requires Rhys to plug himself into the electricity mains at night to recharge the batteries. However, in his drunken stupor, he would forget to charge his batteries or take spares with him, meaning he would literally be seconds away from death on an almost weekly occurrence.
Then in 2019, Rhys hit rock bottom and ended up in rehab. Those 28 days changed the course of Rhys’ life forever. The months following rehab were also some of the most challenging of his life- breakdown of marriage, loss of income and house eviction. The intense therapy he had undergone in rehab and continued work on himself post-rehab enabled him to manage these major events with a newfound mindset and perspective. Rhys began sharing his story; speaking openly and honestly about his life challenges and breaking stigmas around mental health struggles.
2021 and Beyond
Now, Rhys is over two years sober and happier than ever! Currently, on the heart transplant list, he is waiting for a much needed new heart. Rhys is heavily involved in talking about mental health and well-being in schools, local authorities and businesses with his charity tidybutt. As an inspirational speaker and mentor, Rhys’ areas of expertise include; resilience, athlete transition, mental health & wellbeing, overcoming fear, victim to growth mindset, addition & recovery, perspective, and finding purpose.
Rhys’ mission is to inspire positive change by sharing his extraordinary life experiences. He strives to help others reach their full potential by facing their fears and awakening their authentic selves through greater self-awareness, perspective and conscious choice.
Professional Rugby Appearances
Years on an LVAD