I died seven times ….. and that was just the start of my problems

When Scott Fleming (now 29) went to play football one Sunday, he was expecting a gentle run around the pitch. Instead he died.

Here Scott, from Blackburn, West Lothian, tells his story.

"As I lay in my hospital bed, I couldn't believe what the doctor was telling me.

"You're a very lucky man," he said.

"You died seven times in one day."

I just looked at him in a daze. I couldn't remember anything after going to play football as usual on a Sunday.

And I had no idea that was more than a week before!

While I lay flat out in a hospital bed, the doctors and my mum, Dorothy, had to fill in the rest.

I'd gone to play in my local amateur league but after 30 minutes I told the referee I wasn't feeling well.

There was no reason for me to feel ill. I remembered the night before, I'd stayed in and had an early night. So I should have been raring to go, but instead I felt disorientated and kept running in the opposite direction to the ball.

So I came off at half time and went to sit on the bench. As soon as I sat down, I collapsed on the floor. Luckily the referee and another player were medically trained and they gave me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as I was turning blue – my heart had stopped.

I had to be, the doctors told me, rushed to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary by the ambulance and my heart had stopped another six times on the way.

Each time, the ambulance crew managed to revive me again. Somehow I kept on coming back.

When I arrived at the hospital, doctors stabilised me, but I was still unconscious and I remained in a coma for another six days.

It was only two days after I woke up that the doctors told me what had happened. It was just too much to take in. And even as I struggled to grasp what I'd been through, there was more to come.

They carried out an ECG examination which showed an abnormal pattern in my heart. I had Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. It meant there was an extra electrical pathway that causes a rapid heart rate in the upper chambers of the heart. And that could be a killer.

It hit me then how lucky I'd been. I was 27 years old and I'd lived all my life without knowing I had this condition.

I'd always been really active and did loads of outdoors sports. I lived with my mum and worked as a design technician, but in my spare time I ran half marathons and regularly did 10km runs. I loved climbing – I was so proud when I reached the top of Ben Nevis. I went to the gym three times a week too.

The immediate problem for me after I woke from my coma was that I couldn't remember anything. It was very scary even though doctors told me it was temporary. I had been learning Spanish for four weeks before collapsing and I couldn't remember a word of it. And I couldn't remember football matches I'd been to, or played in, even people's names.

I recognised my mum when she came to visit, and my brother Mark, 33. But they had to help me piece together who other people were. It was quite a strain and after my ordeal I lost a stone in weight.

Doctors told me the condition wasn't hereditary – I was just unlucky. It hadn't happened to anyone else in my family. Then they told me they could cure it, by putting a wire through my groin, and into my leg, and basically frying the extra pathway, which meant that it couldn't conduct the electricity around my heart the wrong way any more.

The worry was that it could strike again at any time. Doctors were anxious for it to be carried out so I had the operation a few days later.

I was nervous before the surgery, as I didn't know what to expect. It was terrifying because I was awake throughout it and I felt a burning in my heart when it was being carried out.

They had to inject adrenaline into my body afterwards to see if it had worked. Thankfully it had.

I was allowed home just before Christmas and check-ups afterwards gave me the all-clear, which was a huge relief.

But it wasn't over. A month after I was allowed home, I started to get breathless.

I went back to hospital and tests showed that scar tissue had formed in my throat. The tubes that had been put quickly down my throat in intensive care to keep me alive had scratched the inside. The scar tissue was now making it difficult for me to breathe.

My life was in danger again and the doctors had to do something quickly. I had laser treatment, but that didn't work.

By March 2005, my airways were nearly closed. I couldn't walk properly as I just couldn't catch me breath. I had to have a tracheotomy fitted in the August, where a tube was inserted into my throat to keep it open.

For 14 months I couldn't talk at all. I carried a notebook around with me and I had to write everything down.

I also had six weddings to go to during that time – luckily I wasn't a best man at any of them so I wasn't expected to make a speech!

However, I did have to go on a stag night to Barcelona. Happily my friends were very supportive – but I had to take my notebook with me there too.

I was an usher at one of the weddings – and instead of telling the guests which side to sit in at the church, I just had to point them in the right direction.

Finally, in August last year, doctors carried out risky surgery. They had to operate to remove the scar tissue in my windpipe which was the only way I would be able to breathe properly again.

The surgeons at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow told me it was extremely risky because if the two parts weren't joined properly then there was a chance that it would rupture and my brain would be starved of oxygen.

It was terrifying to think of what could happen – I would be brain damaged.

But I knew there was no choice, I had to have the operation, I had to take the risk.

I couldn't have the tracheotomy tube fitted permanently, being unable to speak. I was only 28, I had the rest of my life in front of me.

The operation was carried out and doctors managed to remove all the scar tissue. they joined up the two halves of my windpipe and luckily it was a success – it didn't rupture.

The doctors had to put me in another coma for four days while my body recovered.

After that I slowly regained my strength and it was great to begin to get my life back.

I'm going to the gym and even playing football again – though it was nerve-wracking going on the pitch for the first time.

I feel very fortunate to have survived. The doctors said it was very unusual for someone to have gone so long and still be alive, as my problem was so severe.

It is always in the back of my mind that I died seven times that day. I feel very lucky to have been given another chance at life.



A heart condition in which sufferers have an additional electrical pathway, this syndrome affects around three people in 2,000.

In a healthy heart, electrical impulses travel steadily around it stimulating heart muscle to pump blood around the body. But if you have WPW syndrome, then you'll have an additional pathway for electrical pulses.

This means that impulses will sometimes go down both pathways stimulating the heart to pump too often, and irregularly.

Many people don't even know that they have this condition, but sometimes it can cause a racing hart (over 150 per minute), palpitations, dizziness and blackouts – and very rarely sudden death syndrome.


the condition is diagnosed with an ECG, but not everyone needs treatment. Some people just take medication when they experience palpitations or even go to Accident and Emergency for treatment.

But if the condition is more severe then you can need an operation to remove the abnormal pathway.


The condition can be made worse by caffeine, stress and tiredness.

for more information on Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, visit the website of Cardiac Risk in the Young, which offers information and support at http://www.c-r-y.org.uk.