Eivind sacrifices everything for football

Eivind (© Bente Bjercke)

When Eivind had surgery as a newborn baby, the doctor said: “the operation was a success, but he is never going to be a star athlete.” Sixteen years and many kicks later, Eivind has proved the doctor wrong. Here is his story.

No life without football

"I cannot imagine life without football,” says 16-year-old Eivind Stigen Holter from Oslo. “Just thinking about it is dreadful. I remember when I was younger there was talk about me playing in the Norway Cup one day. My mother didn’t believe it was possible. Then, the first time I played in the Cup, she cried.”

Not just a heart

Eivind's training regime would make anyone out of breath. He practises five or six times a week and plays in matches all year round. At 16 he is already on the junior team. When a football player is this good, obstacles can be set aside. "People say that me being so fit is a special achievement, but I never think about it that way,” says Eivind. In addition to an aortic stenosis, he has serious asthma and allergy problems. Eivind also has Coeliac disease (gluten allergy). His asthma can get especially bad during the winter months. "I sometimes get bouts of bronchitis and have been sick because of it, but most of the time it passes," he says.

Decision not to undergo treatment

Eivind had to undergo surgery again in 2005. The surgeons recommended fitting a mechanical valve, as the simplest and best solution long term. The valve though, would have meant life-long treatment with a blood-thinning drug called Marevan. "The operation would have meant that I had to give up football,” explains Eivind. “Playing football at my level is incompatible with going on blood-thinning drugs, partly because the risk of bleeding is so great." Eivind's parents, Thora Holter and Kjartan Stigen, searched the internet looking for information about other solutions. Several alternatives were assessed. They discovered that valvoplasty was starting to become a more common procedure, and after discussions with the team at the Oslo University Hospital, it was chosen as the solution.

Quality of life

Eivind (© Private)

Eivind agreed with the decision to repair his old aortic valve rather than replacing it. In March, 2005, Eivind underwent aortoplasty to preserve his existing valve. He was back on the pitch just a few months later. "It was not a difficult choice,” he says. “For me, quality of life is the most important thing. A mechanical valve could have prevented me from doing the one thing I enjoy most: football. So many things would have been very different without football, including my social life." Eivind fully understands that he might have to get a mechanical valve at some point. No one can say how long such a repair will last, but so far the doctors are pleased with the way things have gone. "Hopefully I will be able to continue to be active until I am 20 years old, maybe even longer,” he says. “Football means more to me than whether or not I will need to have an extra operation down the road. I am the one that has to live with the consequences of the procedures. Of course I listen to the doctors’ advice, but they have to listen to me as well," he asserts.

Physically active

Eivind is keen on making sure that the doctors look not only at his heart, but also at him as a whole person. He has been playing football since he was six years old, and is convinced that the physical activity has benefited his heart defect. "Being fit and doing a lot of training means that the heart works with less exertion," he says. "I clearly remember, when I was about 11–12 years old, a doctor told me during an examination that I would never be a football player. I was upset about it for a long time afterwards. However, it also increased my motivation to get even better,” says Eivind.

Aim high

Physical activity at a low or high intensity is beneficial for children and adolescents with congenital heart defects. Eivind's dream is to become a professional football player. This summer, Eivind and his team were in Minnesota for two weeks at the USA Cup. With Eivind as captain the team won the final in their age group and took home the biggest prize of the season. "It was brilliant! The USA was a fantastic experience in every way,” says Eivind. “It was an enormous cup and we had trained really hard to win. There were thousands of people watching in the stands, and the final match was really tough. We played Texas Pro Select – one of the best teams of 16-year-olds in the USA – and we beat them!" Back home in Norway, Eivind's team made it to the semi-finals of the Norway Cup, ultimately taking the bronze medal. This autumn they topped off the long season by winning the Adidas Cup, which is the unofficial Norwegian championship for their age group.

Eivind is also considering his education. He is not entirely sure what he would like to be but is thinking about becoming an ambassador. It pays to aim high. In the meantime, he will keep on playing football.

"If I become a professional, I'll send that doctor free tickets," he laughs.

Author(s): Unni Grevstad
Last updated: 2009-01-08