It was the summer of 2011, and three-time Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champion Stratos Perperoglou was living one of the sweetest moments of his career, having just won his second continental title with Panathinaikos Athens.
However, a long flight back to Greece following a visit to see family in the United States made him aware of a problem that could have cost him his career at age 27. Perperoglou was just returning to his native country to join the national team in preparation of the 2011 EuroBasket.
"I was sitting on the plane and I didn't get up for the whole flight, and when I landed I started feeling some pain in my right leg area. It was right away after I got out of my seat," he recalls.
Having never felt those symptoms before, Perperoglou just thought that his muscles were a bit stiff because of sitting for too long. However, the following day the pain not only persisted, but increased, and that raised some alarms.
"It was like someone had hit me with a hammer when I heard that."
"Thankfully, the following day we had the physicals with the national team and I asked the doctor to check my calf. We did an MRI and it didn't show anything, so the doctor said 'Why don't we check the veins? Just in case,'" Perperoglou recounted. "So we did that, and the doctor was like, 'Don't even move! Your vein is all clogged and it's a serious condition.'"
Perperoglou, making his return to the EuroLeague with Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade this season, was to learn that he was suffering from deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, a blood clot that usually forms in the legs. Tall people on long-haul flights have a heightened risk if they do not take precautions like standing and moving frequently. DVT can cause pain, swelling or both – but it can also occur with no symptoms at all. If undiscovered, the clot can travel to the heart or lungs, risking permanent damage. Considered that way, Perperoglou could say now that he was lucky to have felt the pain.
"I knew about it because my dad also had a similar problem, so I was familiar with the concept, but I was very surprised because I was having it at 26, 27 years of age. It was like someone had hit me with a hammer when I heard that."
Needless to say, the doctors crossed Perperoglou out from the national team roster and his period of inactivity would last for almost six months, which made him miss most of the EuroLeague season, too.
"They gave me blood thinners right away and I had to stay in the hospital for ten days or so. Then, because of those blood thinners, I could not play. It was dangerous to get hit on the court, because it could start internal bleeding."
All those weeks being out started to worry Perperoglou.
"Honestly, I didn't know if I was going to be able to play again. I heard stories about other players who had what I had, and it can be career-threatening."
Perperoglou would spend the first two weeks of recovery just lying in a hospital bed. After that he could start walking and then running. In three months, he was already practicing – but with a caveat: he had to practice alone. A small body blow could have initiated internal bleeding, so Perperoglou was not allowed to play ball with his teammates.
"I took my career for granted. I thought I would play forever."
The recovery process went as planned, however, and Perperoglou had his EuroLeague return in Milan, Italy in a game that Panathinaikos won. It was the Top 16 opener of the 2011-12 season. Perperoglou played almost 19 minutes and scored 6 points.
"I was anticipating and expecting my return very much. It was a tough season for me, but it helped me with my faith in God. I had to trust him with my career and he helped me overcome this period of time."
That incident changed Perperoglou's mind frame.
"Many times we take things for granted in life," he says. "I took my career for granted. I thought I would play forever."
Luckily, for Perperoglou and for EuroLeague fans, his career continued to thrive. He joined Olympiacos Piraeus the following season and won his third EuroLeague title, playing a total of five more seasons with the Reds, Anadolu Efes Istanbul and FC Barcelona Lassa, as well as the last two in the 7DAYS EuroCup, with Hapoel Jerusalem and Zvezda.
Eight years after his scare, Perperoglou returned to the EuroLeague in Round 1 last week at his old stomping grounds, OAKA in Athens, and scored 15 points. If he plays the full regular season, Perperoglou will rank among the top 20 players in EuroLeague games played this century.
Health-wise, he is happy as ever. After having regular check-ups the first few years after his recovery, it all seems to have been left behind for good – but not without precautions.
"Every time I have an injury, like last season, when I tore my calf muscle, I told my doctors to check the veins, just to make sure," he says.
"I try to take care of my diet. When I fly long flights, I wear special socks, but I also take some blood thinners just for precaution. I am aware of that now and I try to protect myself."