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Shinnie on living with Crohn’s: ‘I thought my career was gone’

“Looking back at everything that I’ve achieved in my career, I massively appreciate it all because at one stage at that young age, I thought it was all gone.”

Graeme Shinnie broke down after a Scottish Cup tie when he was 18 years old and had to endure 11 hours of surgery as Crohn’s disease took hold.

Originally diagnosed with the chronic illness at 12, Shinnie tried to push through the pain barrier as he began to carve out a professional football career with Inverness Caledonian Thistle. But there was a breaking point.

“I had been fighting it discreetly in my own way because I didn’t want to give into as such, but I wanted to be out there playing football,” he told Sky Sports.

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Aberdeen captain Graeme Shinnie has opened up about his battle with Crohn’s disease and how the chronic illness almost ended his career

“I wanted to be out there living my life and I was sort of living in the background with these horrendous stomach pains and fatigue and the problems that come with Crohn’s.

“We beat Morton in the Scottish Cup and that game was the last straw. My parents had come up for the game and I went home that night and broke down.

“I couldn’t go on and the pain was too much for me. I had to have a bath almost every hour to relieve the pain.

“I went into hospital in Inverness and within a matter of days I had a big op, I think it was 11 hours in the end.

“They took part of my bowel away, part of my colon and I had three abscesses at the time, which I didn’t know about, that needed to be drained.”

Graeme Shinnie won the Scottish Cup with Inverness in 2015
Image: Graeme Shinnie won the Scottish Cup with Inverness in 2015

While Shinnie admits the recovery was tough, the determination he continues to show today helped him battle back from his lowest point.

“Getting out of bed was a massive task, going to the ward window was then the next level and then having a wander around the ward.

“These were the small goals that I was setting for myself with the doctors around me and it was the fear of ‘I can’t even walk, how am I going to be able to run especially the way I run around the football pitch?’

“‘How am I going to get back to that level?’ That was tough to deal with.

“Immediately after my op, my health was the most important thing, the football was never in my mind at that point.

“It was touch and go probably whether my career was going to go ahead or not; whether it could get back to where I was.

31/10/12 SCOTTISH COMMUNITIES LEAGUE CUP QUARTER FINAL.RANGERS v ICT.IBROX - GLASGOW.ICT manager Terry Butcher and captain Graeme Shinnie celebrate their side's victory at full time
Image: Shinnie credits former manager Terry Butcher with helping him return to football

“Terry Butcher was my manager who was a massive influence on not only my football career in terms of giving me my opportunity but being around me at that time, visiting me every week.

“After coming out of hospital and trying to build my fitness back up, and my physique and everything else, he was there with me all the way telling me ‘there’s a place for you when you come back’.

“Having that alongside me was massive to keep going and the drive to get back to peak fitness.”

Shinnie returned to help Caley Thistle to Scottish Cup glory in 2015, a third-placed finish in the Scottish Premiership and, as a result, a place in the Europa League.

Shinnie spent three seasons at Derby County
Image: Shinnie spent three seasons at Derby County

He then spent four seasons at Aberdeen before spells at Derby County and Wigan Athletic before returning to Pittodrie in 2023.

“At the age I am now (32), looking back at everything that I’ve achieved in my career, I’m massively appreciative because at one stage I thought it was all gone.

“To be sitting here now still the captain of Aberdeen, and still playing at a high level every day is a blessing for me and I take each day as it comes.”

Image: Graeme Shinnie is in his second spell with Aberdeen

Shinnie still struggles with the condition but says a change in medication has helped him in recent years.

“Some days are okay and some days it hits me like a steam train, but it’s a case of trying to put the feet up as much as I can.

“I’ve got two children so it’s not as easy to put the feet up as much because it’s trying to do a lot of stuff with them, but it’s a case of trying to manage it as best I can in terms of relaxing when I need to and just switching off and letting my body recover.

“I self-inject every two weeks, which is a lot easier than necking tablets every day. It’s a self-inject pen, it’s got a little presser on the top and you just put it in your leg and press the button and it’s done.

“That is a massive help to keep my illness at bay. It’s an immunosuppressant which lowers my immune system so trying to keep on top of illnesses and flu is tough at times, but it definitely helps keep my wellness.”

Symptoms of Crohn’s and Colitis

  • Sudden diarrhoea
  • Very frequent bowel movements
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Tiredness

One in 100 people in the UK suffer from Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis, two types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which cause inflammation in parts of the digestive system.

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