Heartstopper producer opens up about shocking death of his first love: ‘Completely unfathomable’

Patrick Walters

Producer of the critically-acclaimed Heartstopper Netflix series, Patrick Walters, has opened up about how his first love died in his sleep.

Walters, who previously spoke to PinkNews about the “magic” of Heartstopper, has told The Guardian how he lost his “first love”, Josh Shotton, to sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS). 

In 2012, two years after becoming an item after meeting at a gay night in Oxford, Walters’ dreams of moving in with his partner were crushed when Shotton died in his sleep.

The 35-year-old Heartstopper producer said after not having heard from Shotton, he raised concern with his partner’s housemate, who found him unresponsive.

Shotton had died in the early hours of the morning and when paramedics arrived they could only confirm his death. 

Comprehensive investigations into the 27-year-old’s death found he died of SADS – an unexpected death which occurs when a person’s heart suddenly stops but the cause can’t be found. 

‘Such a shock’

Walters recalled his death was “so sudden, and such a shock”, and while the paramedics were at his partner’s home he said “the physical presence of him being upstairs felt so heavy”.

Despite this he knew “once they come and take him away, this is real. It was just completely unfathomable”, he said. 

“I felt a lot of shame around being left behind, and being the only one that was carrying the tenderness, intimacy and pride in our relationship. To be left there, just half of it, I started feeling very anti-myself.

“I lost sight of the person that I was with him: strong, funny, the best version of myself,” he shared. 

Walters, who said their relationship was “overwhelming passionate and romantic”, eventually managed to channel his devastation into work, but he often wonders what life would be like if his first love was still alive. 

“He was so open and excited about life – that’s what’s hard on the anniversaries of his death, but I’ve got this acceptance now. I can let go,” the Heartstopper producer said.  

500 people affected by SADS in UK yearly

Doctor Elijah Behr, professor in cardiological medicine at St George’s hospital and University of London, said a number of tests are carried out following unexplained deaths before the cause can be attributed to SADS.

Behr, who is also a British Heart Foundation-funded researcher into the unknowns concerning SADS, said SADS “tends to be  two-thirds more common in young men”.

Gene mutations indicating silent genetic conditions that can cause abnormal heart rhythm such as Brugada syndrome and Long QT syndrome can be found through DNA testing. 

Behr said tissue taken from the body can lead to diagnosis in around 10 to 20 per cent of cases, while looking at DNA of close relatives is another route.

Shotton’s family were tested, but as with more than half of SADS cases, no genetic clues were found. 

Currently Behr is leading a national programme with the NHS and the British Heart Foundation to “develop pathways for cases of sudden death, and their families, and the genetic testing and the suitable autopsies being performed in a timely and appropriate manner”.

SADS affects around 500 people in the UK every year, according to British Heart Foundation.

Heartstopper tells the story of Charlie (Joe Locke), an openly gay teenager who finds himself falling in love with Nick (Kit Connor), a rugby player at his school.

The much-loved series has been renewed for two more seasons.