Eric Church experienced a brush with death in 2017. In a new interview, the country star reveals that, in mid-2017, he underwent emergency surgery to remove a blood clot brought on by a birth defect.

To Rolling Stone, Church explains that he was born with a defect that put his top rib bone too close to his collarbone, causing thoracic outlet syndrome. “There’s a major vein that runs through there," Church says, "and when I would raise my arm, it would pinch it and damage the vein."

That damage caused a blood clot -- the vein trying to heal itself -- that kept growing and creating pressure, without Church knowing; in fact, Church only learned of his birth defect when it started causing major problems.

Church recalls to Rolling Stone that near the end of his 2017 Holdin' My Own Tour, his hands were tingling often -- something he attributed to nerves. However, one night at home in North Carolina in June, his left hand "was not responding like it should;" it was swollen, and he noticed that his arm was "noticeably red and enlarged."

Church began Googling his symptoms, then headed to a nearby hospital. An ultrasound revealed the blood clot, located in his chest, and the need for emergency. surgery.

"I said, ‘Can it kill me?’" Church remembers. "And [the doctor] said, ‘Today.’"

Church was admitted to the ICU at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C. The surgical team immediately began prepping him for surgery.

"That was really when it hit me," Church says. "To them, I was going to die.”

Church spent three days in recovery from his first surgery. Doctors went back in to take out his top rib one week later.

"Normally, if you’re athletic [and have thoracic outlet syndrome], you’ll start having issues at 21, 22, 23,” Church explains. Others, though, don't learn about the issue until "[t]hey just fall over in the shower.”

Church spent the summer of 2017 in rehab and doing physical therapy. He's got scars from the incident, but no long-term damage so far.

“I can still play guitar,” he notes. “And I play golf better than ever.”

Church had planned for a low-key summer anyway, so he went back out on tour in September without revealing the incident publicly. “It was an interesting summer,” he says now.

Church recently announced a new album, Desperate Man, set for release on Oct. 5. Its first single, the title track, co-written by Church and Ray Wylie Hubbard, is out now.

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