JUDAS PRIEST guitarist Richie Faulkner has reflected on the life-saving surgery he underwent a little over two years ago.
On September 26, 2021, the now-43-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.
In a new video released by UofL Health to coincide with the second anniversary of Faulkner‘s initial operation, Richie said about the Louder Than Life performance (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “I was halfway through the last song of the set, which fortunately was the last song of the set. I say luckily because if it was another 40 minutes to go, I would have carried on, because at the time, you know something is wrong (but) you don’t know, obviously… there’s no way I’m gonna know what that is. There was like an exploding in the chest area. And as the song went on, I started to feel a bit lightheaded. And I thought it was a heart attack. Anything around that kind of area, I’m thinking, ‘Well, what else could it be?’ And at the end of the song, I pick the guitar up with one hand, and I lift it up in the air. And this time I took the guitar off and I tried to lift it and I just couldn’t. And they took me, obviously, to the hospital, which was fortunately three or four minutes away.”
Faulkner didn’t wait very long to return to the road with his PRIEST bandmates. “We went out, I think, five months, after it happened,” he said. “I don’t know if it was the right thing or the wrong thing to do in retrospect, but it was the right thing for my healing process. I wanted to get back on the guitar, get back out on the road.”
Richie was also full of praise for his surgery team, saying: “They saved my life. They made it possible for me to come home and hold my daughter again and cut the lawn and play guitar and do all the normal things that I can do. So I’m forever grateful to them.”
In September 2022, Faulkner revealed that he underwent a second heart surgery a month earlier. He later explained to “That Fuzzing Rock Show”: “They found something just before the (2022) European leg (of JUDAS PRIEST‘s world tour). And it was basically a hole in the repair and there was a leak — I’d basically sprung a leak in there — and it was causing a sack to form around my heart. So they found it just before the European leg. And the surgeon said it was okay for me to do Europe, (so) I was actually touring Europe, playing Europe with this sack and a leak inside there. What that meant was when I got back from Europe, two days later I was back in the hospital for another open-heart surgery… But yeah, it was a bit daunting, to be honest, to be touring Europe knowing that that was going on. But you’ve gotta put your trust in the doctors, and it worked out okay.”
Two weeks after his first 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.
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.”
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 were 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.