Thetford footballer, 13, makes 'inspirational' return to the pitch - just weeks after stroke

ITV News Anglia's Andy Ward reports on Austin's miraculous return to the pitch

An "inspirational" 13-year-old boy has made a remarkable return to the football pitch, just 17 weeks after he suffered a stroke.

Austin Dale, from Thetford in Norfolk, was playing for the Thetford Bulldogs U13s on 21 May when he felt unwell during the game.

He was substituted at half-time and later collapsed at home.

Austin was then taken by ambulance to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge where he was diagnosed with a stroke - most likely caused by narrowed blood vessels in his brain.

He was initially paralysed down one side of his body, and was unable to talk, but incredibly, he was discharged just three weeks later after making a rapid recovery.

Austin now wears a headguard to protect him. Credit: ITV News Anglia

As the weeks have passed, he's continued to grow in strength, and this month he was back in goal for Thetford Town U14s after getting the all clear from doctors.

"I think as a dad, you get really scared, anxious and nervous about seeing him back on the pitch so soon, but it's something that he wanted to do, not something that we pushed for," his dad Paul Dale told ITV News Anglia.

"We're led by what Austin wants. We spoke to Great Ormond Street Hospital, and they said if he wants to go back, then it's entirely up to him. His story is an inspiration to everybody."

As part of his comeback, Austin now wears a headguard to protect his brain - just as former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech did after he was involved in a collision during a Premier League match that left him with a fractured skull.

Austin's dad, Paul Dale, said he was supportive of his son's decision to get back between the goalposts. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Mr Dale added that Austin was still "nervous" in certain social situations after his stroke, but was beginning to grow in confidence again, thanks largely to the recent reunion with his teammates.

During his three-week spell in hospital, video messages from professional players, including England stars James Maddison and Nick Pope, help to lift Austin's spirits - as did the hundreds of cards sent from well-wishers.

"That's what got him out of that bed in the hospital, 100%," his mum Marie Dale said.

"As soon as those cards started coming, as well as the phone calls he had from Tim Krul, there was a smile on his face. He started to move more, he wanted to get out of bed, he wanted to walk. He wanted to get home and be back on this football pitch."

Austin was in hospital for three weeks after the stroke happened. Credit: Family photo

It is estimated that around 400 children have a stroke in the UK every year.

As is the case with adults, the key warning signs to look out for are the face dropping on one side, trouble raising arms and slurred speech.

Austin will still need to undergo regular scans, and is likely to be on blood-thinning medication for the rest of his life, but is just glad to be back doing what he loves best.

"I love football, it's unreal," he smiled. "I do feel proud of myself."

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