AFC Fylde ace Sam Finley has received a huge boost in his recovery from illness, after encouraging medical reports and a morale-boosting chat with a Premier League star.
The midfielder has ulcerative colitis, which has sidelined him since November.
However, the 24-year-old is now hopeful of avoiding surgery, which could mean a year out of the game.
Finley was able to play on after first being diagnosed last year, but he said: “At the end of November I had a flare up. I completely lost my appetite and I lost a stone very quickly.
“I had to go to hospital to get steroids on a drip. I got out just before Christmas because I felt OK but I was back in a few days later and was in right through the New Year.
“The surgeon said I would probably need an operation. I was on the highest dosage of medication possible – over 30 tablets a day – and I had to put an injection into my stomach.
“The surgeon was concerned it still wasn’t calming down and was keen to operate, but the results of my biopsy showed a virus called CMV in my bowel.
“That needed treating before they could do the operation. I am still on steroids to calm it down.
“I went to the hospital on Monday and they decided against the operation and having my bowel taken out now if I am starting to feel better.
“We won’t know 100 per cent for another month but the signs are good.
“Hopefully I might not need the operation for another 10-15 years.
“I still have a drip in my arm but that is supposed to come out this week and hopefully I’ll be able to start light training.”
News of Finley’s condition reached West Brom and Scotland captain Darren Fletcher, who had experienced the same condition and offered words of support.
Sam added: “My uncle is friends with the physio at West Brom and he mentioned it to Darren Fletcher, who had the same thing.
“He rang me the very next day and I was on the phone to him for an hour talking through it all.
“He had it for around three years and had to go for the operation. He was out for around 10 months but my surgeon said everyone’s body responds in a different way.”
“It’s killed me not being able to play football and live my life normally. I haven’t been able to eat, go to the gym or go to training.
“It’s been doing my head in just resting all the time. I spoke to the manager this week to keep him in the picture. He was delighted with the promising news but he doesn’t want me to rush back.
“I will need to have a mini pre-season and try to get back to fitness. I have been doing cardio at the gym and my legs have been really feeling it!
“I’m definitely starting to feel better and I can’t wait to get back to how I was before.”