Never mind about not being able to play rugby.

Buxton Popoali'i is counting his blessings he is still alive.

The Highlanders and Otago winger, who retired earlier this month because of a heart condition, revealed yesterday he was given a no better than even-money chance by his surgeon of getting through heart surgery earlier this month.

"That was pretty scary. He came in and told me that there was a 50/50 chance of getting through it. That made it quite intense," Popoali'i said from Wellington.


"I was just lucky to have lots of friends and family around and they were really positive. They really helped me out. And I'm a positive guy by nature so that helped me. But it was pretty scary at that time.

"That is what a lot of fans and journalists don't know. I'm just grateful to be alive. It could have gone the other way. But I'm grateful to be here and talking on the telephone."

Popoali'i, 24, had an aortic heart valve replaced in a nine-hour operation in Auckland.

Popoali'i said he was feeling fine now. He was taking 14 pills a day and was, for now, at home living with his mum in Wellington.

"Sure, it was disappointing I had to retire. But, to be honest, life is bigger than a rugby field, bigger than a rugby game. I'm grateful for what I've got."