THE France defender Eric Abidal will have a liver transplant in the next few weeks, Barcelona said yesterday. Last year, Abidal had surgery to remove a tumour and was back playing seven weeks later. He took part in the Champions League final victory over Manchester United in May.
Yesterday, experts said there was no reason why the 32-year-old could not play again. Although a liver transplant is a major procedure, the cells of the liver renew themselves within 48 to 72 hours. Official advice for drinkers to avoid alcohol on two or three days each week is based on the observation that this is sufficient time for the organ to recover.
The immediate challenge for Abidal will be recovering from the surgery to remove his diseased liver and replace it and allowing the incision in his abdomen to heal. In an otherwise fit young man, this should not take more than six weeks to two months.
In the longer term his prospects depend on the nature of his illness. Liver tumours can be benign or malignant. In an interview after his operation last year, Abidal appeared to confirm that his tumour was malignant. "Fighting cancer was my Champions League," he told French television. "It wasn't easy, especially for my family."
Abidal may need to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life. These will suppress his immune system and make him more vulnerable to minor infections. This is often the aspect patients find hardest to adjust to.
Abidal is not the first sportsman to return to competition after serious illness. Lance Armstrong was treated for testicular cancer in 1996 and went on to win the Tour de France seven times.