How James coped with a career-changing heart condition
Cardiology James Taylor had to rebuild his life when his promising cricketing career was cut short by a rare heart condition. Keeping positive has helped him through adversity.
Before April 2016, Nottinghamshire and England cricketer, James Taylor, admits that “life was pretty perfect.” He was beginning to establish himself with the England team — always a dream of his — travelling the world, playing a game he loved, in front of thousands of people, and making good money doing it. “I was exactly where I wanted to be,” he says. “I was achieving in cricket and gearing up for the next season.”
But then, during a routine warm-up session with Nottinghamshire, James's chest suddenly started to pound. “It felt a bit like when you get anxious,” he remembers, “although that usually subsides. This didn't and it seemed as if my heart was going at a million miles an hour. I got on the physio bed, couldn't breathe and was given oxygen. That was when I thought I was going to die.” He was rushed to hospital, underwent tests and was told he would have to stay in overnight.
Dealing with the diagnosis
Then, “things got real”. His doctors diagnosed arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), a rare disease of the heart muscle that prevents blood being properly pumped around the body. James knew a bit about the condition because of the similar near-death experience of footballer Fabrice Muamba, which had led to his retirement in 2012.
For James, it was a devastating revelation: it meant that any exercise could be fatal, and that his promising cricketing career was now over at the age of just 26. “I was the fittest in the team and pound for pound the strongest,” he says, “so this came completely out of the blue. But then I put it into perspective because I was lucky to survive. I sat up in bed with my fiancée and we decided we could either keep crying about it or try to make the best out of a bad situation. I was still alive, after all — and I shouldn't have been. I've always been a positive person. Maybe it's because I surround myself with good people and I feel I can do anything. On the flip side, that made the situation harder to deal with because suddenly I didn't feel invincible anymore.”
Coping with change
Initially, James wore an external defibrillator to shock his heart back to life, should he experience another cardiac event. He later underwent an operation to implant an internal defibrillator, which has gone off on at least one occasion and, he says, shot him across the room. “Essentially if my heart is not acting normally the defibrillator restarts it,” he says, “although the thought of it going off is pretty scary.” James also has to take medication every day — but this makes him feel more secure and confident. He used to monitor his heart rate constantly but doesn't anymore. “I found it made me more anxious, and I know my body well enough to recognise when my heart starts doing something that it shouldn't.”
As a young and formerly active man, not being able to exercise has been one of the most difficult things to accept. “It's an ego-dent,” he admits. “I'd always prided myself on my fitness and I'd be in the gym every day. I've barely done any exercise since it happened. I haven't run or done any weights. I occasionally go on a light bike ride in the gym — although I do monitor my heart rate then.” His main way of keeping fit now is playing golf.
Leading a fulfilling life
James is keen to stress that life is still fulfilling, albeit in a different way. He got married in the summer and has been developing a media career working as a cricketing commentator on Sky Sports and BBC Five Live's Test Match Special. He's also coaching. “I've met some amazing people — I can't thank the NHS doctors and nurses enough — and touched base with people I otherwise never would have,” he says. “The public have messaged me and I try to help them with their problems, whether heart-related or not. I like to think I'm having a positive effect on people.”
To that end, he's also become an Ambassador for the British Heart Foundation to raise awareness of heart disease and the need for vital medical research.“I thought it would be good to make people aware of this condition and that it can happen to young people too,” he says. “But I also want to reassure them that there is still life after diagnosis.”