James Taylor, ex-England cricketer, talks about his heart conditionEvent23rd December 2016

James Taylor, ex-England cricketer, talks about his heart condition

The ex-Nottinghamshire and England Batsman looks back on the year his career ended due to his diagnosis of Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC)

The very thing that almost killed former Nottinghamshire and England batsman James Taylor also saved his life.  As he looks back on the year when his career as a professional sportsman came to an abrupt end at the age of 26, he admits to being “very, very lucky”.

Taylor’s heart was beating at 265 beats per minute for six hours. Most people would have passed out in about 10 minutes.  “Thankfully I was so fit I could withstand it. Six hours is a good effort,” he told BBC East Midlands Today.  “It’s ironic, that because I am so fit and did so much exercise it ultimately saved me. It’s a funny one.”

Taylor’s heart condition – Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC) – gets worse with exercise, but had never been diagnosed until he felt ill during pre-season with Nottinghamshire in April.

Retirement was inevitable, and the internal defibrillator he had fitted two months later has already saved his life for a second time.

“My operation was not to make anything better,” he said. “This condition can’t get better, but if something goes wrong it is a safety net.  “If it happens again – and it has – it certainly did its job. It gave me a massive shock. But it did its job.”

Taylor treasures the memories of what proved to be his farewell to international cricket.

He played in all four matches in last winter’s series win over South Africa, taking two stunning catches in the brilliant third Test victory in Johannesburg. “Who would have thought my best moment in cricket was my last moment in cricket?” said Taylor, who won seven Test caps. “All I wanted in my career was to play for England and I had fought so hard and there had been so many ups and downs. I felt I should have played far more than I did”.

“Then it was all taken away from me. It kind of summed up my career. I got there and it got taken away from me.

“The best moment I have ever had in my life was one of the last days playing cricket for England, catching those catches in Joburg, winning that game with England, playing for your country amongst some great guys. It doesn’t get much better than that. I achieved it, but I just did it less than I imagined and hoped. But I can’t complain.”

Taylor does not complain because he is still alive, but the stubbornness which underpinned his cricket career very nearly led to his demise when he knew all was not well playing for Notts against university side Cambridge MCCU in April.

“It was very lucky a few things happened,” the ex-Leicestershire player said, recounting the sequence of events and “what ifs” that led to his diagnosis.

“I am lucky I have a girlfriend for starters – in a lot of ways! I am lucky that Jose was off work and I rang her to say I was ill.

“And if I hadn’t forgotten my keys for my house I wouldn’t have got my mum involved. She found me curled up in a ball. If she hadn’t come, I wouldn’t have got in my house and I don’t know what I would have done.

“Then I didn’t listen to my mum in terms of going to hospital, but Jose drove two and a half hours from Shropshire to see if I was all right. She realised things weren’t all right and made me go to hospital in the end. If she wasn’t off work then things might have been very different.”

Taylor spent almost three weeks in hospital and the “incredible” NHS staff saved his life – of that he has no doubt. He was rushed in after being sick and was quickly hooked up to various machines, but the memory of hearing his heart pounding will stay with him forever.  “The sound was the worst thing,” he explained. “Hearing how fast my heart was going was a crazy thing and I needed it to stop. Luckily I was in great hands.”

His heart withstood the equivalent of running five marathons in six hours.

“The City hospital and the QMC in Nottingham were phenomenal,” he added. “The doctors and nurses were outstanding. They acted so quickly.”

“I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for social media,” Taylor admitted.  Dealing with his situation became significantly easier thanks to the support he received from “hundreds and thousands of people” who contacted him saying his stoicism was a big inspiration.  “As a professional cricketer you distance yourself. You don’t read everything because it can mess with your head,” he added.

“I was in hospital for a week before anybody knew about it. I had 26 million tweets to me, about me, in the first two hours of the news coming out and it got to 60 million in 24 hours – which is phenomenal.  The positivity coming my way was like I had died. It was overwhelming. It took me four days to reply to every single direct message, Whatsapp and email. I can’t thank the public enough.  I dread to think where I would be mentally if that support wasn’t there.”

With his cricket dreams dismantled overnight, Taylor cried – a lot.  But having the positivity to recognise and seize new opportunities, he has taken on plenty of media work and a coaching role at the Notts academy – and he is relishing both.

“I have always tried to be as positive as I can and I have kept that way of thinking,” Taylor said. “I am really as happy as I can be.  Yes, I am not playing cricket and doing what I love, but now I can gradually do a little bit more exercise and am loving the coaching and media work.  Coaching is helping people and giving back what I learnt as a player.  I want to see what they can achieve and have an impact. I only want to do things I do enjoy but also, most importantly, where I can make a difference to people. I feel I can make a difference with the coaching.”

New perspective

Enforced retirement and a change in career was not what he wanted, of course. The transition from player to coach and pundit has gone pretty well, partly because Taylor always tried to be grounded.

“That day in Cambridge proved that I am tougher than I thought I was,” he said.

“Battling through something that you are not meant to battle through is quite satisfying in a mad kind of way. It has changed my life dramatically. I have met people and spoken to people I never would have spoken to.  Ultimately I am still here and it has given me a whole new perspective on life.”

“I think it’s 80% of these cases are found in post-mortems. That is the only way it is detected and it is too late by then.  But luckily my heart and body did its job. I have been very lucky but also very unlucky in lots of ways – but I cannot dwell on what could have happened.  I have battled through that moment and most importantly, mentally I am in a good frame of mind. I can’t control what’s going on physically, but mentally I am in a good space.”

He has also found time to plan a wedding. Well, part-plan a wedding for next summer.

Proposing to Josephine had been in the offing for some time.

“That wasn’t just a knee-jerk reaction,” Taylor said. “I’m sure people think that but it’s been a long time coming

“I bought the ring a few months before this happened. I am not having a lot to do with the wedding thankfully, so hopefully she pulls her finger out and gets it sorted.”