Australian swimmer Michael Klim is a two-time Olympic champion and has won seven long-course and five short-course world titles in his career. In 2007, Klim retired from competitive swimming.

Recently, Klim revealed that he suffers from an auto-immune disorder, and can not walk unassisted. The condition is incurable. The swimmer opened up about the devastating illness on Sunday, talking to Lisa Wilkinson on ‘The Project’.

Michael Klim has an incurable auto-immune disorder

The 44-year-old retired swimmer revealed that the doctors diagnosed him with Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIPD) in 2020. It is an auto-immune disorder that attacks the myelin sheaths of nerves and affects function in the limbs. The treatment courses mainly focus on suppressing the immune system.

“The body is trying to protect itself, but it’s eating its own tissue,” Klim told Network Ten. “In my case, it’s eating the outside of my nerves.” The former world record-holder suddenly found himself unable to walk at the Kuala Lumpur airport about three years ago. The experience was devastating.

“I called Michelle, and I was literally in tears because I couldn’t pinpoint what it was,” he said. “That was one of the scariest moments I had. For me, my ability to do anything physical was something I used to pride myself on and used to give me mental strength. Bit by bit [it] was being taken away,” he further added. 

Klim undergoes immunoglobulin replacement therapy at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. But even then, there’s a good chance he might end up in a wheelchair one day. “I’ve lost sensation in both of my feet… a little bit of function in my left foot, minimal in my right foot… lost calf muscles on both sides,” he said. “I can’t walk by myself.”

Klim has had a hard time coping with the disorder

During the interview, the Olympic gold medalist revealed that he receives a common reaction from people when he tells them about the CIPD. They always assume that since he has the mental fortitude of an athlete, it’ll be easy for him to get through this.

“It’s actually not necessarily been the case. It’s not like I can do extra exercise … if anything, at times I’ve been more despondent about it and it’s more depressing,” he admitted. Klim also revealed that sometimes he turned to alcohol to cope with the pain.

But eventually, he found a way to move on with his life. He gives himself time to ponder on his anger and frustration for an hour each day. But then it’s back to business as usual. He has even restarted his swimming school in Bali and swims every other day.