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‘I thought I was on the way out’ – James Taylor on the day he learnt of his heart condition

by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

“Raw, unbridled fear,” is how James Taylor described the day he first realised he had a rare, serious heart condition that forced his retirement from cricket at the age of 26.

Taylor has since recovered and made a successful career in the media – he works with BBC Radio’s Test Match Special – but on the day, he struggled with the very real fear of death.

The symptoms first struck when Taylor was warming up ahead of a pre-season match at Cambridge University. He felt his chest tighten, and “out of nowhere, my heart was really thudding”.

“I turned to my team-mate Brendan Taylor,” Taylor wrote in his autobiography Cut Short, an excerpt of which was carried by the Daily Telegraph. “‘My ticker’s f****d,’ I told him. ‘My ticker’s f****d,’.”

Taylor described the struggle that followed as he tried to get to terms with what was happening to him. “I walked off to the changing rooms. My heart was now going what felt a million miles an hour,” wrote Taylor. “I could actually see my chest moving, my skin expanding and contracting, fit to burst. It looked so unnatural. It made me feel sick to see it.

“I was gasping for air, sucking it in. I was feeling so, so sick. I made it into the toilet and stuck my head in the pan, desperately trying to vomit. Nothing would come. Nottinghamshire physio Jon Alty dragged me out. It hadn’t been flushed and was no place for anyone to be putting their face.

“I was trying to tell him about my heart, but I could barely breathe. I just wanted to pass out. That would be a way of escaping it. I really did think I was on the way out.”

So serious was Taylor’s condition that, on his return to Nottingham, he was told to rush straight to the hospital without waiting for the ambulance.

After his recovery, James Taylor has made a career in the media

“By 4pm, I was feeling progressively worse and getting pains down my left arm. Looking back, it’s obvious – it’s the sign of a heart attack. I shouldn’t have been alive at that stage. With my body concentrating all it had on my vital organs, my stomach was already giving up.

And the expression on the doctors’ faces, Taylor wrote, was something he wouldn’t ever forget. “The machine (heart monitor) said it was pounding at 265 beats a minute. The doctors looked at one another. Strangely, it’s the little things you notice at a time like that, and the expression on their faces – shock, disbelief – is something I won’t forget.

“When the heart is under stress it releases an enzyme called troponin. Under no stress, the amount of troponin in the blood would be zero. My level was 42,000.”

The doctor told Taylor that his heart had been through the equivalent of running six marathons. “My sheer fitness had saved me. Anyone else wouldn’t have had a chance.

“The day, my heart, the future – there were so many unanswered questions, so much to deal with. It was the first time I’d ever felt real fear – raw, unbridled fear.”

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