Richie Faulkner did not expect to conclude his performance at the Louder Than Life Festival in Kentucky this September with a 10-hour emergency heart operation. While (ironically) playing Painkiller with his band Judas Priest, he suffered an aortic dissection. Healthy and asymptomatic, he is just 41 with no history of heart trouble.
Nothing sinister heralded this life-threatening event beyond a feeling of faintness and, in keeping with his heavy metal persona he completed the show and "kept the hair flips coming". Looking back, however, he says:
"As I watch footage from the Louder Than Life Festival in Kentucky, I can see in my face the confusion and anguish I was feeling whilst playing Painkiller as my aorta ruptured and started to spill blood into my chest cavity. I was having what my doctor called an aortic aneurysm and complete aortic dissection. From what I've been told by my surgeon, people with this don't usually make it to the hospital alive".
The incidence of thoracic aortic aneurysm and dissection (TAAD) is 9 to 15 per 100,000 population in the US with 15,000 deaths per year. At present there are 60 genes known to cause this condition but that which most concerns the Marfan Trust is the gene for Marfan syndrome. Awareness is key. Heart disease under the age of 50 is usually genetic. It has been suggested on Heavy Metal blog sites that Richie Faulkner may have our syndrome. We don't yet know whether this is true but we do say that his DNA is probably being screened and close family members must be checked.