Rugby League

Nigel Plum cleared of brain damage after concussions forced him to retire

Nigel Plum is the modern-day face of the concussion issue in rugby league and despite being cleared of permanent brain damage the former Penrith forward says he is glad he quit the sport.

The NRL last year organised for Plum, as well as South Sydney's Kyle Turner and former Wests Tigers forward Liam Fulton, to see a brain injury and concussion expert in Melbourne.

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Plum, who complained of memory loss during his final season before retiring last season, has been encouraged to return every year or every second year to have his health monitored.

"With the tests that I had down in Melbourne in mid September, I got the all-clear," he said.

Glad he quit: Former Penrith player Nigel Plum.
Glad he quit: Former Penrith player Nigel Plum. Photo: Getty Images

"The doctors down there were really happy with the results. They want me to go back in every 12 to 24 months to redo the scans so they can see if there's been any change. Now that I don't play footy any more, if there's any difference it won't be from continued concussions.

"There was no brain damage at all and no long-term side effects were found. They just want to monitor it to see if there's any change. At this stage they aren't concerned and that makes me really happy that I've come out unscathed from it all."

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Mario Fenech told Fairfax Media on Monday that he was all for a crackdown on concussions in the game given some of the health problems he experienced after retiring.

Plum has been in contact with Fenech and is well aware of the side effects that could come as a result of the repeated concussions he suffered throughout his career.

"I've spoken to Mario. I went out to Bourke with him on a trip for the Ronnie Gibbs Shield," Plum said.

"I spoke with him a little bit about concussions and footy. We're aware of the seriousness of it. We both have an understanding of what issues you can get from concussions. I'm glad I'm out of the game because of the number of concussions I did receive over the years."

Plum battled injury most of his career and had more than 10 surgeries before pulling the pin last year.

But what makes his efforts to back up week-to-week even more remarkable is that he can't take anti-inflammatory drugs to help with the pain because he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, in 2003.

He was also diagnosed with a rare grass bug disease called Mycobacterium arupense at the end of his career, which saw him in and out of hospital in November and December with a swollen and infected elbow.

"The symptoms of it started following a Souths game at home in the start of July," Plum said.

"But it took until the end of September to diagnose to get to the bottom of the issue. They had no idea about it. They presumed it got in through a graze I picked up playing footy. There's no definite answer but it is a rare grass bug. At the time I picked it up my immunity was down I was taking two different medications to help me for my Crohn's disease. Because of that, my immunity pretty much wasn't working which is why it got me.

"On the elbow I had the problem, I played the last four or five games with it really swollen. It was massive because of the infection. Now I've got six holes on my elbow where it just lets out. Penrith have been great paying for everything from doctors appointments to antibiotics. I'll be on these antibiotics for two years. I think this rare grass bug was only found in 2006 so they don't know much about it."

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