THE term "lights out" in football often refers to getting knocked out; when Heathmont footballer Mehmed Bektas uses it while talking about his neck injury he means death.
The 27-year-old was forced into football retirement last week after fracturing his C7 vertebra while playing for the Heathmont Jets against Wantirna South in an Eastern Football League division 3 game on May 12.
Bektas spent three days strapped to a hospital bed after the injury and had surgery to remove a bone fragment from close to his spine and fuse his fractured vertebra to a healthy one.
But if not for the intervention of his doctors and his fiancee, trained chiropractor Kaiti Williams, Bektas could have ended up losing much more than his suburban football career.
After injuring himself, he not only continued to play but after a first hospital X-ray showed no serious damage, he was planning to head out to an engagement party until taking further scans on advice of his doctor and Williams.
The scans showed the fracture, leaving doctors to strap him down to stop any further neck movement.
"It was horrific; they thought I might have a dislocated neck, then they found the fracture," Bektas said. "I was still in footy gear and I hadn't warmed down so I was cramping up and couldn't stretch because they were worried that if I moved I could have severed my spinal cord.
"And when the damage is that far up your spine you don't become a paraplegic. It's lights out; you die."
Bektas now has to spend the next six weeks staying at home and avoiding any form of contact to his neck as he recovers from the surgery.
Surgeons have used a mental plate to help secure his vertebra and make sure it can't move.
He can walk and has full control of his movements but he has also been told he can never play contact sports again - a bitter blow. His sports career has included starring for South East Australian Basketball League side Dandenong Rangers before he turned to football.
He was in his first season with the Jets after crossing from Eastern Lions. Bektas was originally injured when he leant over to pick up the ball and was collected front-on by a Wantirna South player.
"I saw him coming and tried to turn but didn't move quick enough, so my body went one way and my head the other way. I heard a big crunch and my left arm went numb," Bektas said.
"I was out of it for a few minutes and the trainers came over but I eventually got up and took my free kick, then kept playing for five or 10 minutes but in a few contests I was getting pushed away easily."
As he cooled down, his neck became more uncomfortable and after the trainers and his fiancee checked him out he decided to go to hospital. "I was pretty nonchalant about it and was more concerned about getting to the engagement party we were going to.
"It was lucky Kaiti pushed me to go and get those scans because if I slipped or had fallen I might have never woken up."
■ Heathmont lost its grand final rematch to Glen Waverley Hawks by 41 points on Saturday.