Innovative Heart Surgery at Mayo Clinic Keeps Drummer’s Beat Rolling

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.'"

Justin Vigile

Justin's family kept looking for an answer. The search eventually brought them to Mayo Clinic and a specialized team led by Hartzell Schaff, M.D., and Steve Ommen, M.D. Justin arrived at Mayo Clinic just in time. "Here's a young man who has his whole life in front of him, and not only is he symptomatic and shows symptoms of his heart disease, he was depressed and discouraged because of the illness and the prospects he had at that time," Dr. Schaff told Mayo Clinic News Network.

At Mayo, Dr. Schaff and his team gave Justin an alternative to heart transplant in the form of apical myectomy, a surgical procedure to relieve symptoms caused by the thickening of muscle in the apex of his heart. During the procedure, a two-inch incision would be made around the apex to remove excess muscle tissue in Justin's heart to increase the amount of blood being pumped out, and to lower the amount of pressure inside the heart.

It's a procedure that Dr. Schaff developed at Mayo Clinic in 1996. Since that time, other surgeons at Mayo have performed the procedure on patients like Justin many times over. For Justin and his family, the outcome has been life-saving and life-changing. "You didn't just give me back a boy who could sit in a chair," Mary Beth said of Dr. Schaff and his surgical team at Mayo Clinic. "You gave me back a boy that could drum again."

And drum again he does. In fact, we're told that Justin and his fellow Extractus band members continue to tour and also recently inked a deal to provide music to NFL Films and the National Football League for use on its various media platforms. (Not a bad gig if you can get it, which thanks to Dr. Schaff and his colleagues at Mayo Clinic, Justin has).

You can read more about Justin here. And you can watch Dr. Schaff discuss Justin's care in this YouTube video. Then drumroll on over and leave a comment below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.