JUDAS PRIEST's RICHIE FAULKNER Says His Heart Surgeons Saved His Life: 'I Honestly Shouldn't Be Here'
February 14, 2022
JUDAS PRIEST guitarist Richie Faulkner opened up about the life-saving surgery he underwent less than five months ago.
On September 26, 2021, the 42-year-old British-born musician suffered an acute cardiac aortic dissection during a performance at the Louder Than Life festival, just a short distance from Rudd Heart and Lung Center at UofL Health - Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. It took the hospital's cardiothoracic surgery team, led by Dr. Siddharth Pahwa and also including Drs. Brian Ganzel and Mark Slaughter, approximately 10 hours to complete the surgery, an aortic valve and ascending aorta replacement with hemiarch replacement.
Faulkner, who has spent the last few months recovering at home in Nashville, reflected on the episode during an appearance on the "In The Trenches With Ryan Roxie" video podcast. He said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Looking back, you can join the dots. I was tired that day. Tiredness is a sign of it. But that's the thing — three weeks into a tour, you're finding your legs anyway. We're getting used to the schedule. We're gonna be tired two or three weeks in. There was nothing that was out of the ordinary for that time in the tour schedule. So there was no signs whatsoever. I was just out there half way through [the PRIEST song] 'Painkiller' and my chest just went 'bang.' And I thought, 'Well, that doesn't happen every day.' And it didn't go away.
"Luckily, we usually have an hour-and-forty-[minutes] set. But tonight METALLICA were playing, so we had an hour set, and this was the last song," he continued. "If it wasn't, I would have carried on — a thousand percent, I would have carried on — keeled over and that would have been it. Because when these things go — I didn't know any of this beforehand — you have minutes. What happens is it ruptures and it bleeds into your chest cavity and you bleed out inside yourself and you go. That's it. So literally, it blew up inside. So I'm playing along, and I started to feel a bit faint. I remember walking back from the edge of the stage, just in case. I've never fainted, I've never passed out before, but I started thinking this is what it feels like. 'Cause obviously the blood was draining out of the extremities. So that's what was happening. Again, I didn't know this at the time. To be honest with you, I thought I was having a heart attack, because it was in the chest cavity and it was getting pretty painful. All my energy was depleted. At the end of the song, I usually lift the flying V up in the air, and I couldn't lift it — I had nothing. So I came offstage and sort of collapsed into a chair. The paramedics came out. And it went from there."
Faulkner went on to reiterate that he survived because he was close to a world-class heart center, and he was quick to recognize he needed help.
"People don't recover, people don't get to the hospital," he said. "There was one of the best heart hospitals in the country four miles away — four miles away. If the odds were stacked slightly differently… Honestly, I don't know how I even got to the hospital. People [with that ailment] don't make it to the hospital.
"I was still in my leathers in the ambulance," he continued. "I went back to the dressing room, got my jeans on, whatever, got to the hospital, they found out what it was, rushed me into the emergency room. They got me under. So they started to operate. They cut [my] ribcage open, and as soon as they did that, the whole thing ruptured. [Laughs] And I didn't know any of this. So my other half, she's out waiting for me, and the surgeon came out and told her, he said, 'You'd better call family to come and be with you because he's not gonna come out. He's not coming out.' And he told her why, that they'd just cut into me and the whole thing's gone.
"I don't know how they did it, but they gave me four blood transfusions, and somehow… They're miracle workers, these surgeons and doctors and nurses in there," Faulkner added. "I was in there for 12 hours. And they had to stitch me up in the end. They replaced me with mechanical valves. I think there's five mechanical pieces in there. They had to stitch me up in the end because I couldn't be out any longer, because of brain damage issues and stuff. But they did it. They stitched me up. I don't know how they did it."
"I shouldn't be here. I honestly shouldn't be here," he said.
Two weeks after his surgery, Faulkner told reporters that he experienced a sharp pain as he was stepping off the stage. "That's when it exploded," he said.
"The more I read about it, the more astonishing it is to me to think that I even made it to the hospital," he added. "The amount of time when I actually go the pain and when I turned up in the hospital and when we were actually operating, it was quite a lot of time. The more I read about it, the more unbelievable — that amount of time — I don't know how I'm still around today."
Pahwha told reporters that the chance of survival for anybody with Faulkner's ailment is about 10%.
"There are about 70% to 80% patients who have their aorta ruptured and never make it to the hospital," said Pahwa.
Faulkner said he had no history of heart complications and that the aliment came completely "out of the blue."
"My point is I don't even have high cholesterol and this could've been the end for me," he said. "If you can get yourselves checked — do it for me, please."
Aortic aneurysms are "balloon-like bulges in the aorta, the large artery that carries blood from the heart through the chest and torso," according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Dissections happen when the "force of blood pumping can split the layers of the artery wall, allowing blood to leak in between them."
Doctors said Faulkner will continue to be monitored and will receive a CT scan every six months for the first year.
After Louder Than Life, JUDAS PRIEST postponed the remainder of the U.S. dates on its 50th-anniversary tour, dubbed "50 Heavy Metal Years". The shows have since been rescheduled for March and April 2022.
Faulkner joined PRIEST in 2011 as the replacement for original guitarist K.K. Downing.
Richie was once the guitarist in the backing group for Lauren Harris, daughter of IRON MAIDEN bassist Steve Harris.
Faulkner and his girlfriend Mariah Lynch, daughter of former DOKKEN guitarist George Lynch, welcomed their first child, a baby girl named Daisy Mae, in July 2020.
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