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Ospreys and Wales hooker Scott Baldwin says he could have lost his left hand after he was bitten by a lion while on tour in South Africa last month.
Baldwin suffered a serious infection after being bitten while stroking the lion at the Weltevrede Game Lodge, but is now nearing a return to playing.
“The infection was the major issue,” the 28-year-old told the BBC.
“The next day it started tracking up my arm. The surgeon said there was a chance I could lose my hand.”
Speaking to Radio 5 live’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast, he said: “The bite went straight through the other side of the hand, but I was really lucky it didn’t hit any tendons or ligaments.
“The surgeon said it was like winning the lottery, he said it was the best possible outcome considering I had been bitten by a lion.”
Baldwin was in South Africa with his Ospreys team-mates for a Pro14 match against the Cheetahs.
After a series of clean-out operations in Bloemfontein, he was rushed to hospital when he returned to Wales.
“The first day our doctor cleaned it out and stitched it up,” he said.
“But the following day we went to the hospital after it had become infected.
“I had my first operation on the Thursday, second operation on the Friday, and then I was allowed to fly home Saturday on the understanding I had an IV drip and went straight to hospital when I got back.
“I was transferred to Morrison hospital in Swansea to see a plastic surgeon, and he cleaned it out once more.
“Because they had packed it with all stuff to stop the infection, my skin was so loose he didn’t have to take a skin graft, so I was really fortunate there.”
Baldwin said the squad had spent the morning before he was bitten with the lion cubs.
He said: “First of all we were told to stand a metre and a half away, and then within 20 seconds they were asking if we wanted to go in the enclosure with them.
“We were stroking them for a while, and they were all fine, and then I think it was the fact I stroked the female first, I don’t think the male liked it too much – that’s just my theory.
“I turned away to give one of the boys my phone to take a picture, and the lion thought, ‘he’s not looking now, I’ll have a bite’.”
Baldwin, who coach Steve Tandy said had been “pretty stupid”, says he may be ready to return as soon as Sunday’s Champions Cup game at Saracens.
“I’ve had the stitches out, and hopefully will be back in training sometime in the coming week,” he said.
“I’m hoping to be available for this week, if all things go well. But that’s my thought process, I don’t know about the coaches and medical teams, but that’s what I’ve got in my head.
“Steve Tandy has said we just need to get past it now. It is what it is, we just need to move on now.”