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How a rare heart surgery helped make music for the NFL

STEVEN M. FALK / Philadelphia Inquirer

After being diagnosed with a form of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and later heart failure, heavy-metal musician Justin Vigile became bedridden and thought he had just months to live. Refusing to give up, his mother searched the internet and learned about apical myectomy — a surgery that was developed at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, MN. The rare operation is performed by STS member Hartzell V. Schaff, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic.

By the time Justin visited the Mayo Clinic in 2011, Dr. Schaff and his colleagues had performed the operation just a few dozen times. So far, the Mayo Clinic is the only US facility to perform the operation. However, STS member Pavan Atluri, MD, director of Penn Medicine’s Cardiac Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support Program, is working with Dr. Schaff to learn the procedure with hopes of performing it at Penn. 

Before long, Justin was back practicing and performing with his band. Not only does he now have his life back, but after producers at NFL Films heard about his story and listened to the music of his band, they invited the group to contribute music during the season for segments on ESPN’s NFL Matchup and Showtime’s Inside the NFL.

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