Fabrice Muamba lies in a coronary unity at London's Royal Chest Hospital, critically ill, fighting to extend a brief but exceptional life.
He must have thought he overcame the biggest obstacle in his life after his family escaped civil war and fled what was called Zaire and is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo because his father, Marcel, worked for the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown as president in 1997.
When rebels rose against the regime, Muamba's uncle, Ilunga, was murdered.
His father, fearing the same fate, fled to London, claiming asylum. He woke the young Fabrice one morning to say he was going out, without saying where.
It was three years before father and son were reunited when Marcel Muamba was finally permitted to stay in England indefinitely. Fabrice and his mother Gertrude arrived at Heathrow Airport in December 1999 on the coldest day he had ever experienced.
Reflecting on his troubled upbringing, Muamba said last year: "It's Africa, isn't it? That's the type of continent it is. There are always dramas, wars and stuff."
Muamba's life was not simply changed but, like millions of others, endangered by the bloody civil war in his homeland.
The Muambas moved to Walthamstow in East London, no longer hearing the sound of gunfire as they lay in bed. Fabrice, who had played football on the streets of Kinshasa, asked Arsenal for a trial and, partly because of his pleasant, persuasive manner, they accepted. He was taken on.
To talk to them, however, the immigrant had needed to adapt. He did so swiftly. Despite not speaking English when he arrived in the United Kingdom at the age of 11, he excelled academically. Muamba passed 10 GCSEs, followed by A-Levels in French, his mother tongue, English and maths. His decision to start an Open University degree in accountancy last year highlighted a quest for knowledge and a fondness for numbers.
Sizeable sums were spent acquiring his services. Muamba only made two appearances for Arsenal before joining Birmingham City, initially on loan and then, in 2008, for a £4 million fee. Steve Bruce, the manager, was an admirer, comparing him to another African-born enforcer, Patrick Vieira. In 2009, Bolton Wanderers bought him for £5 million.
While the Premier League is often deemed surreal or a soap opera, it has brought stability, structure and safety to the Bolton midfielder.
"Some people look at footballers and think it is about the cars and lifestyle, but don't understand how it was for some of us who changed life from Africa," he said last year.
"This is my adopted country. People have helped me, welcomed me with open arms and given me this opportunity. I'm earning a more than decent living and leading a comfortable life. I'm very appreciative of that. When I hear the anthem, I just think about how far I have come."
Blessed with reserves of energy and considerable physical power, seeming capable of running from penalty box to penalty box for 90 minutes, the 23 year old is an England youth international with an unselfish brand of commitment whose self-sacrificing efforts made teammates and supporters appreciate his rare goals all the more.
He is approaching 150 games for Bolton, as well as representing England at five different age levels. He won 33 caps for the Under 21s, standing in as captain and resisting approaches from Congo to play for their senior side.
A committed Christian, he became engaged to fiance Shauna on Valentine's Day and is the father of toddler Joshua. Yesterday, fans left flowers, Muamba shirts and scarves at Bolton's Reebok Stadium close to the players' entrance. A popular figure wherever he has been, Muamba was visited in hospital by the Arsenal defender Johan Djourou and is particularly close to Justin Hoyte, the Middlesbrough right-back and another former Gunner.
"I seriously hope my best friend in football is OK," Hoyte tweeted. "Stay strong bro please please stay strong."
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE