Professional soccer player Drew Beckie was visiting a friend in Stockholm, Sweden, in December 2017 when he began feeling ill.
"I landed on Tuesday, and by Saturday, I was feeling so bad that I didn't feel like doing anything," Drew says. "I had flu-like symptoms, bad stomach pain, night sweats."
Drew thought he likely picked up a bug on his flight, but by Sunday, things seemed to be turning around. The 27-year-old Canadian native recalls feeling "really fantastic, actually — ready to go out." But it didn't last. After breakfast that morning, Drew was hit hard with pain.
"The pain was so intense. It started in my back and then moved to my chest," he says. "My arms went numb. My jaw went numb. I knew something was really wrong."
Drew was taken to a local hospital, where doctors found his troponin levels were significantly elevated. Troponin is protein that's released from inside cardiac muscles cells when they die, often because of a blocked artery.
Although it felt like he was having a heart attack, Drew learned he had fulminant myocarditis. The disorder often is the result of a viral infection that triggers inflammation of the heart muscle. Treatment runs the gamut from bedrest to corticosteroids or immunosuppressant medications. Some patients require a heart transplant.
Drew was lucky. Doctors in Sweden told him he didn't need anything other than six to eight months of rest and no strenuous activity. But then they gave him a warning.
"The doctors said if I were to exercise, I had a high chance of sudden death," Drew says. "They said there was a strong likelihood that I wouldn't be able to play again."
That sent Drew on a quest for a second opinion at Mayo Clinic. There he met Leslie Cooper, M.D., chair of Mayo's Department of Cardiology and co-founder of the Myocarditis Foundation. Dr. Cooper put Drew on a path to recovery that led him back to the game he loves so much.
There are several types of myocarditis, which affects about 3 million people globally. The disorder usually develops in otherwise healthy individuals, and men are more likely to get myocarditis than women. Younger men and athletes are affected in greater numbers than other groups.
"When they told me I had this, I'd never heard of anything like it," Drew says. "They explained there were different kinds of myocarditis, and with this one, I should easily recover."
But when he was told his professional soccer days might be over, Drew knew he needed another expert to weigh in on his condition. Though he was signed to a Finnish club, Drew headed to Jacksonville, Florida. Because he had previously spent time playing for the Jacksonville Armada, Drew was familiar with Mayo Clinic's Florida campus.
"I wanted the best opinion on how to recover from the diagnosis I had received," he says.
In early 2018, Drew scheduled an appointment with Dr. Cooper, who has dedicated his career to the research and study of myocarditis.
"There are many causes of myocarditis, including viral infections, autoimmune diseases and adverse reactions to medications," Dr. Cooper says. "The prognosis is variable, but chronic heart failure is the major long-term complication."
Unlike the doctors who evaluated Drew initially, after he assessed Drew, Dr. Cooper felt there was potential for him to return to soccer.
"Technically, there is no treatment for the type of illness Drew had. In part, it was a virus that needed to run its course," Dr. Cooper says. While about 10 percent of people who develop myocarditis with chest pain syndrome have recurrence of chest pain the first year, Dr. Cooper didn't think Drew was at risk. "He had almost normal heart pump function at that time."
When Dr. Cooper also told him he might eventually be able to return to play, Drew was ecstatic.
"I remember it was Good Friday. I grew up Catholic, and that was a big significance to me," Drew says. "It was really cool to get that news then."
Dr. Cooper gave Drew the green light to begin training again.
"It was very humbling to meet with him as the top expert on this disease. I was impressed by the amount of time he spent with me," Drew says. "He really gave me the confidence to get back on the treadmill and push my fitness, so I wouldn't lose my skills."
Drew's former coach with the Jacksonville Armada offered him a limited contract to help Drew regain his fitness. In May 2018, Drew played his first game since the diagnosis as a member of that team. Then he signed a new deal with the Oklahoma City Energy in June.
Today, Drew says he's feeling almost better than before his diagnosis. He now trains and plays anywhere from three to five hours a day, in addition to games on weekends.
"I love the game, and I want to play into my early 30s," he says. "It's amazing how the body recovers."