• Cardiovascular

    In the Loop: Innovative surgery keeps drummer’s heart beating 

Justin Vigile was living out his dream as the drummer of a heavy metal band when a genetic heart condition threatened his budding music career — and his life.

Four years ago, at age 23, Justin Vigile was living out his dream as the drummer for the progressive heavy metal band Extractus. His band was gaining momentum, but his heart was losing steam. That threatened to end his budding music career, and for a time, Justin's life also hung in the balance.

Justin was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy at age 15. The genetic condition causes the muscles of the heart to thicken, making it harder for the heart to pump blood. In some people the thickened heart muscle can cause shortness of breath, chest pain or problems in the heart's electrical system, resulting in life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms. Justin had an implantable defibrillator placed in his chest. He went on to pursue his dream and, according to his band's website, Extractus was "ripping through the local scene" in Philadelphia after making its debut in December 2012.

Then during one of the band's gigs, Justin's defibrillator activated on-stage. "It sent me for a loop," he says. Although he managed to keep playing, the incident would lead to worsening symptoms. "Eventually," Justin says, "I couldn't walk. I couldn't get out of bed. My doctors told me, 'Your heart is failing. It will get worse and, at some point, this is it. This is the beginning of the end.'" Read the rest of Justin's story.

Watch: Drummer beats heart disease. (This report was originally featured in 2014 with the Mayo Clinic Sesquicentennial video series.)


This story originally appeared on the In the Loop blog.