EVERY time the Australian Country Cricket Championships roll round they remind Chris Russo how lucky he is to be alive.
Almost two years after a virus in his heart forced him to be airlifted to hospital, the ACT batsman will make his third appearance at the titles when they get underway in Bundaberg from January 3-14.
Russo has made a full recovery from the scare, but admitted the memories come flooding back at the time of the annual tournament ''I thought I was going to die,'' he said. ''When they said I was going to be airlifted to Fremantle, I thought I wasn't going to make it.
''WA's a lovely state, but I can't persuade myself to go back there.''
In January, 2011, the then 19-year-old suffered intense chest pains at about 5am in the morning several days into his debut ACCC campaign in the regional Western Australian city of Bunbury.
He alerted the team manager and was flown to Fremantle, where doctors diagnosed his condition as myocarditis, an infection of the heart without the blockage of coronary arteries that define a heart attack.
The severity of myocarditis can vary greatly, from chest pain to heart failure or sudden death, with myocarditis causing up to 20 per cent of all cases of sudden death.
He remained in hospital for two days and was unable to play sport for a couple months because he couldn't raise his heart rate to the required level.
''I got crook with the flu or something and didn't sleep very well,'' he said. ''My chest started to hurt and it got worse and worse.
''Next thing you know I'm struggling to breathe. It was pretty scary at the time.''
Russo said he has received the all-clear from his cardiologist and was confident he wouldn't have a relapse, with about 30 per cent falling into that category.
''I'm well and truly past it, but every time the country champs comes up, it's definitely something I think about,'' he said. ''I've had all the regular checks and haven't had any chest problems since. About one in three people get it again, but it's highly unlikely.''
He didn't miss a beat in his return to the crease, continuing to pile up the runs for Tuggeranong last season on the way to reclaiming his spot in the ACT team for last year's country titles in Geelong.
An off-season switch to Queanbeyan has only strengthened his resolve as he hopes to push for a place in the ACT Comets.
Russo was in the Comets' squad before his heart drama in a sign of the Dubbo product's potential. ''It'd be good to get into the squad again and face the quality bowlers at training and get a chance in the Futures League,'' he said.
''I've really enjoyed the move to Queanbeyan. You get stale over time and the best thing for me was to start fresh at a new club.''
Regular Comets players are ineligible for the ACT team for the national country titles.