Leeds United under-21s keeper Dani van den Heuvel speaks for the first time on the horror car crash which broke his neck.
The 19-year-old was sat in the back of a vehicle which went into a traffic pole at high speed while on international duty with Holland Under 19s in the summer.
Van den Heuvel ended up breaking his neck and jaw in the accident but since revealed on social media that he as returned to training with the Premier League club admitting he feels fortunate to be able to play football again.
Opening up on his ordeal for the first time while on Leeds’ mid-season training camp in Spain, he said: ‘It was a bad, bad crash.
‘There was one staff member and three other players in the car. We were driving on the main road and someone tried to cross the road from a side road. We had to avoid him, so our driver steered right. We drove into a traffic pole.
‘I was unlucky that I was in the middle backseat so I was the only one who didn’t get an airbag. I was the worst injured.
‘I was unconscious. After the impact, I can’t remember anything. I woke up in the car. The car was smoking, beeping. There was glass everywhere. I remember my jaw was really painful, my neck just felt really stiff. It was scary.
‘Did I worry for my life? Yes, definitely. That quick moment when everything goes dark, when I think back about it, it is just like an empty space. It was a terrifying experience.
‘I was in the hospital for a couple days and had to get surgery on my jaw. The first week was really scary. I was really emotional. It did a lot of damage. It was mentally really tough.
‘You’re scared of what might happen when you first hear about some fractures in your neck. The first thing you think about is being paralysed.
‘But after they said you’ve got zero per cent chance of getting paralysed, that’s the moment your mentality switches.’
During his time in hospital, Van den Heuvel was got a visit from his Dutch team-mates who were in the car with him, and received supportive messages he received from players and staff back at Leeds.
‘The boys all came to visit me,’ he said. ‘The driver was in shock, he felt a bit guilty, even though he couldn’t do anything about it.
‘But we spoke about it as a group and shared our experiences with everyone who was in the car and that really helped.
‘The boys at Leeds sent me good messages as soon as they heard about the accident. It was good to speak to them.
‘I like to speak about it because it helps me. I am not afraid in the car now but I am a bit more careful.
‘I am a bit more aware of the traffic around me. You trust people less around you because it wasn’t our fault.’
Van den Heuvel’s injuries was told to the wider public when Leeds boss Jesse Marsch revealed his player had been involved in an accident on the eve of the new season in August.
Up until then, the shot-stopper had kept his ordeal relatively private. ‘The important people knew about the accident, but I didn’t share any pictures,’ said Van den Heuvel.
‘I’ve been off my Instagram for six months because I didn’t want anyone to see what was really going on at that time. Everything was still a bit unsure and I was a bit unstable at that time.
‘I was at home for six, seven weeks, and then I flew back to England. It was so good for me to come back with the team. Being around the boys really helped me.
‘They motivate you. Even people who’ve had long-term injuries, they talk you through it as well. It really helped.
‘That is a good feeling. Not the feeling that you are all alone, which is how I felt in the car for a second.’
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Van den Heuvel, who signed for Leeds from Ajax in 2020, made his playing return in an Under 21s friendly against Valencia last week.
‘When I first arrived in hospital on the day the accident happened, they said I would probably be able to go on the pitch after six months,’ he added.
‘But now I’ve played my first game again after six months, so that’s an achievement I’m really happy with.
‘It was amazing to stand back on the pitch – that feeling, the good nerves you get before a game. As soon as you get on the pitch, you don’t think about anything else.
‘Obviously, the first couple of times I went back out on the pitch, my neck still felt a bit stiff. But it doesn’t change anything, I am still doing the things I used to do.
‘When something like this happens, you start realising how grateful you need to be for everything. You appreciate it more – not just football, but everything.’