Omar Elabdellaoui completes miracle return to football after firework incident

  • Rob Swan
Galatasaray's Omar Elabdellaoui completes miracle return to football after firework incident

Galatasaray defender Omar Elabdellaoui completed a miraculous return to football on Monday, 14 months after his career appeared to be over when a firework exploded in his face.

Elabdellaoui, 30, was left clinically blind following the incident, which happened on New Year’s Eve in 2020.

The Norway international’s right eye was left severely damaged and there were fears that he’d never regain his sight, let alone return to professional football.

“I just thought I had something in my eye and had to clear it out but then I felt my face totally burning and everything was black,” Elabdellaoui said in a recent interview with The Guardian.

“I tried desperately to understand but it was difficult. Because of all the gunpowder my face was burned. I think it was difficult for them to say how bad it was straight away. In one moment I grabbed the doctor to say: ‘Just tell me the truth, tell me how bad it is.’ She said: ‘Your left eye doesn’t look too bad but your right eye, we do not know.’ But the way she said it, I knew it was not good.”

He continued: “I didn’t really have control over the first days. Everything was dark – I didn’t know if it was night or day. Time was irrelevant.

“There were a lot of people and noise. Voices become so much louder as you hear everything when you can’t see. The longer it took, the more afraid I was.

“I didn’t dare to sleep. As soon as I got a bit of light after a few days in my left eye, I was afraid to sleep as I was afraid of the darkness, so was afraid to close my eyes. Even though it was a tiny bit of light from my left, I was always checking if the light was there because I was afraid of losing it.”

In February 2021, a doctor at the Cincinnati Eye Institute gave Elabdellaoui a 5-10% chance of getting his sight back and described it as one of the worst injuries he’d examined in his 35-year career.

It was described as four times worse than the injuries suffered by an American soldier who’d been treated after being blinded by a bomb in Afghanistan.

After calming and stabilising the eye with medications last spring, doctors were able to move to the stages of restoring Elabdellaoui’s vision. Ocular stem cells from his sister, who was found to be a perfect match, and an anonymous donor allowed the eye to create its own skin again and give the planned corneal transplant the best possible chance of being a success.

In total, Elabdellaoui had 11 surgeries in the USA, each testing the defender’s mental fortitude to remain optimistic.

But doctor were amazed by his mentality, with one describing him as “the most motivated patient” he has seen.

On eventually regaining his sight after such a long ordeal, Elabdellaoui said: “It was really special – I do not know how to put it into words. You can try to imagine but I do not think it is possible for anyone else who hasn’t been in the position. I was taking off the patch and had a bit of vision; I was closing my left eye and could actually see my hand on my right side; I could see all the movements on my right side that I hadn’t. It was a miracle, like a dream come true. You never think that to see is a dream – you just take that for granted.”

Omar Elabdellaoui completes miracle return to football

The Norwegian, who uses eye drops every half an hour unless on the pitch, was reintegrated into the squad in January and fitted with specialist glasses and contact lenses.

And on Monday, there were emotional scenes when he played the full 90 minutes in Galatasaray’s dramatic 3-2 win over Goztepe.

“I would like to thank my family, my manager, my children and Fatih Terim for helping me,” Elabdellaoui told beIN Sports, per Goal, after completing his return to action after 423 days.

“I went through a difficult process. It was a difficult injury. I struggled a lot. I’m back on the field and doing what I love most. It’s my dream come true for the second time. It felt like I started football for the second time.”

What a truly incredible story.

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