Julie Mills

Viral myocarditis

My story began in August 1998 when, in my third year of a four year teacher training degree, I felt unwell and left my holiday job early. I was in the middle of my shift and I had a pain in my chest and a headache and I thought I just had a virus.

The chest pain got worse in the night and I went to the doctor on Monday morning.

I did have a virus. Unluckily I was among the one in a million in whom it attacks the heart.

My condition, viral myocarditis, which at the time was yet to be diagnosed, is often fatal. My GP was concerned and took some blood for tests.

He asked to see me on the Wednesday. He was not happy with me and we went straight to the accident and emergency department at East Surrey Hospital, Redhill, for an ECG. They admitted me immediately to the ward.

My condition was deteriorating rapidly. My heart was incredibly swollen and was not pumping blood to my body and was itself being starved of blood.

The next day, Thursday, I was transferred to the high-dependency unit at Middlesex Hospital, London. There were more tests and I was moved again to the intensive care unit. By now there was great concern and the last thing I can remember before losing consciousness was my parents saying goodnight. I didn’t know, but they had been told that this goodnight might also mean goodbye.

Things moved fast. My only hope now was an immediate move to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where surgeons were known to be developing new types of artificial heart. I was taken to the hospital by special intensive care ambulance, accompanied by a nurse and two doctors.

My parents followed in their car. They were told it was not known if I would survive the journey, which took an hour and a quarter. We got there about 4am. They were going to do the operation at 9am, but they brought it forward by an hour. They thought I had about 20 minutes left.

I had almost no natural pulse and my blood supply was so poor that my kidneys had also stopped working and I needed renal dialysis as well. The surgery took four and a half hours.

The next thing I knew was when I came round six days later. There were tubes everywhere. I was sedated and I had no idea of what had happened to me. I lost a week of my life.

After only six days the inflammation and swelling had subsided and they decided that my own heart was working well enough to take the pump out.

I am now very well. I am still on medication but my life has returned to normal. I take part in lots of amateur dramatics and over the last couple of years I have even appeared in 5 one night shows in West End theatres.

Alex Archer-Todde


At the end of March and the beginning of April 2007 I almost died. A lot of people were asking me about this at the time of writing, so if you want to know or just want a read, then here it is. I’ve put this in writing because it’s a morbid thing to talk about and I’m not a morbid character.

This is what I wrote upon returning to England on my first night home. I took part in an exchange to Sicily. The Sicilians came to us and this is about my trip to Sicily.

On the second day of my exchange I began to vomit, unable to hold down anything. Even when I drank water, I would throw up bile. I attributed this to having a long day of travelling and eating too late. Then I began to feel tight-chested and dizzy, it would hurt when I would respire. I thought this might be my asthma and thought to leave it a couple of days to get better.

That night I got a pain in my arm that is similar to when you lean on it and part of it goes dead – except this pain seeped into every part of my arm, the skin, the bone, and it wouldn’t leave when I would move my arm. I attributed this to leaning on it whilst I was sleeping and returned to sleep.

That night I experienced the worst physical pain I have ever felt and became delirious from the pain, thinking that my body was in halves and that I was wrapped in bandages. It was as if there was a person in my chest, kicking to get out every time my heart beat. To be honest, it was pure terror.

The next day I told my host family I was ill and they rang their doctor. He didn’t turn up. The mother of my host family saw I was getting whiter and whiter and took me to accident and emergency. I couldn’t breathe and every time I did, it hurt. There were no chairs in accident and emergency and so I sat on the floor.

After a series of tests I was told that my intercostal muscles were bruised from vomiting and that I could go home. One doctor said however that it would be a good idea to run a test again, as they weren’t too happy with it the first time. I went to get a scan of my heart whilst waiting for the results.

A part of the membrane of my heart on the left side had come loose because there was an infection there, the infection had damaged my heart, similar to the damage you would get after a small heart attack. I was admitted to intensive care in Tomaselli hospital in Catania, a specialist heart hospital, where I was diagnosed with acute myocarditis.

Within the next two days I could do nothing, couldn’t get up out of bed, couldn’t go to the toilet by myself or wash myself, I was rendered immobile.

On the anniversary of my grandfather’s death, I made a miraculous recovery. This isn’t an exaggeration of words, a nurse, prompted by my recovery, brought my mother some blessed bread – she thought it was a miracle.

She would later tell my mother, who flew out with my sister as soon as she found out about me being taken ill, that she thought my mother wouldn’t get there in time and that she’d be taking me home in a coffin.

I spent eleven days in hospital, four in intensive care and the remaining seven I spent sat in semi-intensive care. I could do things for myself and move around but was useless, as I couldn’t speak the language of the people around me.

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