FORMER Gillingham FC player Tony Eeles is battling a life-threatening disease that struck without warning.
The 37-year-old Chatham-born player, whose goal helped save the Priestfield side from relegation to semi-professional football in May, 1993, was diagnosed with dermatomyositis last year, and nearly died from the illness.
The cause of the illness is unknown, but the symptoms include inflammation of muscles and skin, and it can affect vital organs, including the lungs and, less commonly, the heart.
Tony, a plasterer by trade, first became ill working on a building site in Thamesmead last autumn.
Within days his weight dropped from 12 to nine stone, and by his own admission he was close to death. He was subjected to chemotherapy, and today survives on a cocktail of 20 tablets a day.
Tony was discharged from Maidstone Hospital on Tuesday and is now resting at his home in Harrietsham, near Maidstone.
He said: “I’ve been clobbered by an extremely rare disease, but I’m fighting back after being close to death in October.
“What happened came out of the blue as I working, when I got sore hands and feet. One thing led to another, I underwent a lung biopsy and spent five weeks in Maidstone Hospital last year. I was allowed home for Christmas, but had to return afterwards.
“I’m in remission, which is a positive step. It’s a rocky one, but I’m on the road to recovery and am more mobile than I was.
“I know I can never work on a site again, so I’ve set up my own company to occupy me.”
Such is the “brotherhood” among former Gillingham players that ex-skipper Alan Walker, who nearly lost his life in a freak coaching accident last year, has become a source of inspiration during regular visits to his bedside.