When Matt Dawson finished runner-up in the 2006 series of Strictly Come Dancing with his professional partner Lilia Kopylova, he was a picture of health and agility.
But ten years later, the former England rugby captain was forced to undergo multiple heart operations – and all because he was bitten by a tiny insect.
But the bite didn’t happen on some remote tropical island – the 44-year-old had been taking a leisurely stroll with his wife, former model Carolin Hauskeller, and their two sons in a London park.
And now, the Question of Sport captain has spoken of the terrifying ordeal that could’ve cost him his life.
It was shortly after returning home from the walk early last year that Matt started to suffer from feverish symptoms.
Doctors diagnosed him with Lyme disease, a bacterial infection caused by infected ticks.
Speaking to The Telegraph, he recalled: “I’d heard of Lyme disease before. It was something I’d always associated with places abroad, on the continent, in America… wherever there were deer.
“There’s no way I would’ve walked through a wood or a forest with my kids, and gone back home and thought: ‘Right, I’ll just check for some ticks to make sure everything is fine.’ I just wouldn’t have thought of that.”
Incredibly, the sports star needed numerous heart operations spanning a period of 18 months.
He’s still on medication and admitted that it’ll take time for his heart to fully recover, but hopefully he’s over the worst of it.
“It was a really scary time for me and my family,” added Matt. “Such a tiny creature caused me to end up needing heart surgery.”
Now, the former scrum-half is attempting to raise awareness of Lyme disease, backed by The Big Tick Project, a charity co-founded by TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham.
According to the NHS website, between 2,000 and 3,000 new cases of the disease occur in England and Wales every year.
If it’s caught early enough, the illness – which is distinguishable by a circular rash around the bite mark – can be treated effectively with antibiotics.
But if it’s left unattended, it can lead to meningitis and heart failure.
Last year, Dawson revealed that his two-year-old son Sami had been “lucky” after beating meningitis at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. In this case, it was not connected to Lyme disease.
The former rugby star urged parents to vaccinate their children against the deadly illness.