x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Rugby player on life support after freak accident

Jonathan Beeton, a rugby player in the UAE national team, is critically ill in hospital in Dubai after he hit his head and neck in an accident on a dhow.

Jonathan Beeton, pictured with wife Tammy, is critically ill in a Dubai hospital after hitting his head in an accident on a dhow.
Jonathan Beeton, pictured with wife Tammy, is critically ill in a Dubai hospital after hitting his head in an accident on a dhow.

DUBAI // Four years ago Jonathan Beeton arrived from South Africa to start the next chapter in his life. Tammy Beeton, now his wife, joined him two months later. The star player missed a Dubai Rugby Sevens game to pick her up from the airport.

He was 23, she was 19 and the world was at their feet.

Over time he gained two promotions in his job as a site engineer and worked his way into the UAE national rugby team as a centre. Six months ago, he and Tammy tied the knot in Port Elizabeth back in South Africa. It was a dream start for any couple.

Last month, the couple attended a friend's birthday party. The event had a military theme and the party was held on a dhow. Towards the end of the afternoon, Mr Beeton was sitting on the back of the boat on the railing of the second deck.

Docked in the bay opposite the Mina Seyahi hotel, the wake caused by jet skis whizzing by shook the dhow, and Mr Beeton was knocked off balance. He fell and hit his head and neck on the platform between the two engines at the back.

"People were in the water within seconds helping him," Mrs Beeton said.

Derrick Murray, the best man at his wedding and a former teammate, dived into the water to help.

"One minute your friend's here and then you're helping him out of the water," said Mr Murray, who has been Mr Beeton's friend since school. A police boat arrived soon after and Mr Beeton was taken to Rashid Hospital, where doctors conducted CAT scans and induced a coma.

He has been in the same condition in the intensive care unit since.

"It was just a complete accident," Mrs Beeton said. "The swelling has gone down a bit but because of the neck injury, the brain swells and there is nowhere for it to go. Despite that he was coming out of the water breathing, the brain was not getting any oxygen."

The freak accident has left the star rugby player clinically brain-dead and on life support.

His family have all been to Dubai to see him and Mrs Beeton's mother, Jenny Van de Veen, has also flown in from South Africa.

"It's tough for both families to see a young happy couple broken up too soon," said Mrs Van de Veen.

The pair first met when they worked in a pizza restaurant, he as delivery boy and she worked the tills.

"He worked there all through his studies in university," Mrs Beeton said.

Mrs Beeton said her husband had fitted right into the Dubai rugby scene, joining the Exiles in 2007. Yet finding the right position was not as easy. Originally a scrum half in South Africa, he played on the wing and even as a lock in the forwards.

"We were just joking that he played every position on the pitch except hooker. He was considered too tall for scrum half," Mr Murray said. Yet his true position was as centre. He played on the wing for the Exiles, and centre for the national team.

According to Mr Murray, he played his best game against Japan for the UAE despite a colossal 111-0 defeat. Mr Beeton intercepted a pass in the UAE's 22-metres. He made a dive from his own 22 and got caught just centimetres from the try line.

"Even though he didn't score, he wanted to do his best. He said to me afterwards, it was the best moment he ever had on the pitch," Mr Murray said.

Mr Beeton's humorous side was complemented by a professional attitude. He was awarded player of the year by his club last season.

"He was dedicated. He was the one guy who you knew would be there at the end of training," Mr Murray said.

"He never moaned and was always there. He was a complete team player. He made the team."

Now the team are giving back.

On Friday, there will be a benefit fund-raiser at the Dubai Seven's grounds at 3pm. A brunch will be followed by a game between the Exiles and the UAE national team.

Raffle prizes include business class seats with Emirates, an ultimate golf experience worth Dh35,000, signed South Africa rugby jerseys and rugby balls.

A Facebook group has also been set up for well-wishers. Some of South Africa's legendary rugby players have left messages on the site.

eharnan@thenational.ae