A laboratory analyst based in Frampton Fen can call herself a true survivor just three years after officially lying dead on a hospital operating table.
Chantilly (Tilly) Milverton celebrated her 20th birthday yesterday having survived a heart condition which forced her to give up a blossoming football career with a ladies team in Wyberton due to the risk of a stroke or cardiac arrest.
But to mark the third anniversary of an operation to try to correct a life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation (VF), Chantilly completed her first-ever triathlon in Spalding on Sunday to the amazement of family and friends.
Chantilly said: “I was a normal teenager growing up and very active in doing any type of sport, including football, running, squash and cycling.
“When I was at school, I ran in the Lincolnshire Schools Track and Field Championships, played rugby, football and basketball.
“I would practice golf with my grandad and basically I was a tomboy.
“But when I reached the stage of wanting to take more football quite seriously, I developed heart palpitations that got more serious.
“I was referred to my GP at Pilgrim Hospital, Boston, who monitored my heartbeat and said that it wasn’t right.
“Then I went to Glenfields Hospital, Leicester, where the doctors did some tests.”
Chantilly, who lives in Boston, was found to have atrial fibrillation which causes an irregular and abnormally fast heart rate of more than 140 beats a minute.
There was about ten seconds when I was gone and I remember them saying ‘we just lost you for a second, but you’re back with us’Chantilly Milverton (20) after completing the Spalding Sprint Triathlon
Doctors went ahead with surgery to fix Chantilly’s heart while she was still awake, but her family feared the worst when an electrocardiogram monitoring Chantilly’s heart activity “flatlined” – which in medical terms can mean death.
“I was fit and well, living a normal life and I’d never been really ill apart from suffering with a cold.
“So to go from that to having someone saying ‘There’s something not right with your heart’ was very scary for me as a teenager.
“My family has a very strong cardiac history so when they told me there was something wrong with my heart, my parents were very worried.
“There were periods when I asked ‘why me when I’m only a teenager?’ and I hid away for some time.
“But then I realised that if I worked with my condition and allowed other people into my life, I could live with it.”
Chantilly’s full diagnosis consisted of an irregular heart beat, palpitations and a mitral valve prolapse for which severe problems could lead to heart failure.
Operations to correct such a diagnosis can be done with the patient under general anaesthetic while a cut is made down the middle of the breastbone or between the ribs, but also by feeding a tube known as a catheter into the neck or groin which is then guided through the heart.
Chantilly said: “I remember the operating theatre at Glenfields was full of staff, with a big x-ray machine showing the wires in my heart which was firing from every ventricle of it.
“At one point, my heart went over 300 beats a minute and I could feel my chest bouncing, so I said to the anaesthetist ‘This is like running in a sprint and I don’t like sprints.’
“Then the x-ray machine flatlined – a moment that I could never forget because it was so terrifying.
“There was about ten seconds when I was gone and I remember them saying ‘we just lost you for a second, but you’re back with us’
“My mum was petrified and terrified about it, she was upset and I was very upset having got nothing from the operation.
“The intention was to ablate (remove) the areas of my heart that were causing it to fire too often and too irregularly but in doing so, I had to tell myself that everything would be absolutely fine.
Despite her “dodgy ticker” for which she has to have regular, Chantilly wanted to mark the third anniversary of the operation with a triathlon.
The event was made up of a swim at Castle Swimming Pool, a bike ride from Moulton to Spalding and a run of almost three miles.
“I run and cycle when I can so when I saw that a triathlon was on in Spalding, I thought ‘I’ll give it a go, safely and controlled.’
“When I first told my family I was doing the triathlon, they said I was mad and just asking for trouble,” Chantilly said.
“But they came round to it when I assured them that I would monitor my heart and not get dehydrated.
“On Sunday, I had no stimulants or anything that would raise my heart rate but kept everything low-key, whilst still wanting not to finish last.”
In fact, Chantilly came 66th out of 90 triathletes with a time of 1 hour 21 minutes 41 seconds.
She swam 400 metres in 10 minutes, 17 seconds. then did an 11.65-mile cycle ride in 42 minutes, 40 seconds and a run of almost three miles in 24 minutes, 36 seconds.
Chantilly said: “The ‘why me?’ mindset does nobody any good because everybody has a natural pacemaker in your heart.
“It’s just that mine fired too often and too irregularly.
“I can almost do anything, but there are things like alcohol that I avoid so as not to put myself in the danger zone.
“A cardiologist told me that I’m very fit, but I’m not healthy so I need to give my heart a break.
“I do have a heart defect and it can’t always be seen so, for me, it’s about having to remember that and just getting on with things.
“I’ve had to grow up and listen to health professionals because the thing with hearts is that you can be perfectly healthy and have no outside symptoms, but have to carefully monitor it all the way.”
Chantilly is motivated to take one another triathlon, having previously raised more than £500 for the Pilgrim Hospital Heart and Lung Fund by cycling 20 miles through the Lincolnshire Wolds.
“I still want to inspire people and show them that whilst I do have a heart defect, I can carry on and take on challenges,” Chantilly said.
“My big motto is if you’re ever feeling down, there’s always somebody worse off than you.
“I really enjoy what I do as a laboratory analyst for an agricultural company, I have good colleagues behind me and I’m a very happy person in life.
“It’s just a case of me accepting my heart condtition and embracing whatever God has dealt to me, knowing that I’m strong enough to take it on.”