South African cricketer stricken by Guillain-Barré syndrome set to return home

Solo Nqweni in action at the 2012 ICC U19 World Cup Getty Images

Solo Nqweni is going home. Nqweni, an allrounder from the Eastern Cape, was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome while playing club cricket for Aberdeenshire last July, spent four weeks in an induced coma and has been receiving treatment in a Scottish hospital for the past five months. He has now recovered enough to travel back to South Africa to continue his rehabilitation.

However, it costs more than £80,000 (US$104,000) for an air ambulance. His agent launched a fundraiser four days ago, which had collected £3125 (US$4077), and then on Thursday, an anonymous donor offered to foot the rest of the bill. Nqweni will be in Johannesburg by the weekend.

Rob Humphries, Nqweni's agent, had been working alongside the South African Cricketers' Association (SACA), and its player services manager, JP van Wyk, to try and secure his return home. They were floored by the generosity of an unknown individual who has made a massive difference to Nqweni's quality of life.

Nqweni played for South Africa Under-19s in 2012 and has been contracted to Eastern Province and the Warriors franchise since. He was on his first cricketing assignment abroad. "I had been pestering him for the last 4-5 years to come to the UK and he finally decided 2019 was the year - then this happened," Humphries told ESPNcricinfo.

After two months in the UK, Nqweni picked up what he thought was the flu. "He had a sore throat and just feeling unwell but was reluctant to go to the doctor," Humphries said.

It was only when the symptoms did not subside that someone at the Aberdeenshire club insisted Nqweni seek medical attention. The National Health Service (NHS) diagnosed him with Guillain-Barré "pretty quickly", and he was admitted to hospital on July 14 when matters took a turn for the worse. "The thing about Guillain-Barré is that you lose control over your muscles and so, can't control your ability to breathe," Humphries said.

Nqweni had to put into a coma so a machine could do the work of his lungs. "There were about three to four weeks where it was touch and go," Humphries said. "And the other thing is that it doesn't affect the mind, so you are completely aware of what is happening. It's being trapped in your own body."

During this time, members of the Nqweni family travelled to Aberdeen in relays, ensuring that there was always someone at his side. SACA contributed to their accommodation expenses as well as ensured his franchise contract would stay in place for the ongoing 2019-20 season, even though he is unable to play.

"Right now, there is no other consideration for him apart from returning to play cricket" Rob Humphries, Nqweni's agent

Once he had made some progress, Nqweni was brought out of the coma and slowly began to regain some of his muscular functions. In September, he was still being fed out of a tube but was regaining some of his vocal capacity. "It was like if someone loses their voice and you can only just hear them," Humphries said.

By October, Nqweni was able to talk loudly enough to record a video wishing the South African national rugby team, the Springboks, well for the World Cup. In December, he was visited by Ben Stokes and his wife Clare, who were in Aberdeen for the Sports Personality of the Year awards and now, in January, "he has enough mobility to use some of his messenger services," according to Humphries, who receives messages from Nqweni on Instagram.

Given the progress he has made, doctors have given Nqweni the all-clear to travel home but he requires a specialist air ambulance transfer with round-the-clock medical support and a seat for a member of his family to make the journey with him. The exorbitant cost was not covered by the NHS and was too much for the Nqweni family to bear on their own, so Humphries took to social media to try and raise funds. His GoFundMe campaign received some support in its first few days before an unexpectedly large single donation covered the bulk of the cost.

Nqweni will still need significant recovery time and money. His family have identified a facility in Johannesburg for the former, while SACA has promised to assist Nqweni in accessing their past player fund, once his contract ends this season, and disability fund, should he require it. It is not known whether Nqweni will be able to return to professional sport, but if he doesn't he has other options. Before his illness, Nqweni was working part-time for the bank Investec, and studying towards a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

"He is a smart kid and can do anything he wants," Humphries said. "But I think right now, there is no other consideration for him apart from returning to play cricket. He is so strong. I promised him that for the first ball he bowls, I will fly down from England to see it."