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John Whitaker in health scare

Britain’s leading show jumping rider, John Whitaker, is “serious, but stable” in a Swedish hospital after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage during an international show in Stockholm.

John had travelled to Sweden to enjoy the rare chance of competing at the same show as his son and daughter, Robert and Louise, when he became ill.

The family arrived in Stockholm on the Thursday evening (30 November) and John exercised his horses at 7am the following day. At 8am, he had breakfast at his hotelwith his wife, Clare, during which he complained of feeling unwell, and returned to his hotel room with Clare, where he collapsed.

Within 40min, John had been taken by ambulance to the leading local hospital, where the haemorrhage was diagnosed. He was then transferred to a specialist hospital in Uppsala, where he underwent lengthy surgery.

John is now making a steady recovery and if all goes well, he is expected to stay there for at least another 10 days.

John’s father-in-law, Malcolm Barr, flew to Sweden to support the family and he stayed with Robert and Louise in Stockholm, while Clare remained with John in Uppsala, which is around 40min from Stockholm. Louise and Robert have been visiting their father daily.

The cause of the haemorrhage, which may involve the main artery of John’s brain,is unclear, although the hospital believes that a weakness could have been there for “10-12 years”.

John’s great friend, Geoff Billington, who was competing at the Amsterdam World Cup show the same weekend, said: “John and I are like brothers; we are that close. Ever since he collapsed, my phone hasn’t stopped ringing, with calls from all over the world, John is held in enormous esteem by everyone involved in show jumping and we can onlyjoin his family in praying that he makes a full recovery.”

Meanwhile, 17-year-old Robert Whitaker showed enormous strength of character by competing at the show and finishing second in the Land Rover Grand Prix on the eight-year-old Think Twice II,beaten only by Sweden’s Helena Lundback and her Sydney Olympic ride, Mynta.

Robert also took over the ride on Qualisca, whom his father had intended to compete, and was third in a two-phase, with sister Louise also producing a brave performance to finish one place behind on Spirit II.”We did it for Dad,” said Robert afterwards.

Clare, who is by her husband’s bedside, said: “John’s sitting up, knows where he is and is already being a bit of a ‘bad patient’ – the next two days will be the critical ones.”

The Whitaker family have been inundated with messages of support from all over the world.

“We’d like to thank everyone for all the messages. It means so much to us,” said Clare.

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