Richie Faulkner has credited Dr. Siddharth Pahwa, cardiothoracic surgeon at Rudd Heart and Lung Center at UofL Health - Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, with saving his life.
On September 26, the JUDAS PRIEST guitarist suffered an acute cardiac aortic dissection during a performance at the Louder Than Life festival, just a short distance from the hospital. It took the UofL Health - Jewish Hospital cardiothoracic surgery team, led by Dr. 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 is now resting at home in Nashville, spoke to reporters and Pahwa via a video link at the end of last week. He said: "I became a bit light-headed. It didn't go away. I've never fainted before. I've never passed out, but I knew that this felt like I was going to pass out in a minute.
"Luckily, it was about half way into the song," he continued. "So obviously, I had to finish the song. If I had known how important it was, maybe I would have got off there a bit quicker. But I think that's the whole point for me. I had no idea whatsoever what it was."
JUDAS PRIEST, which was scheduled to play for 50 minutes, was in the middle of performing "Painkiller", the final song of its set.
"Luckily, it was a short set, and we would have come off stage anyway," Faulkner said. "Otherwise, I don't know I would have come off stage."
Faulkner said 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."
Faulkner also once again encouraged fans to learn from his experience and closely monitor their heart health.
"Listen, I'm 41 with no history," he said. "You could be the same. Go and get checked. Get in front of it if there's anything like that. If there's not, great. Take it from me: Just go and get yourself checked out."
As for how he plans to eventually return to action with his PRIEST bandmates, Faulkner said: "Get better first. Don't rush. And then we'll get back to seeing when we can get back out there and play some more PRIEST. But at the moment, it's focusing on getting ready, getting better, getting my energy back and my strength back. And at some point, I'll pick up the guitar again and seeing if I can knock out some riffs."
Speaking directly to Pahwa, Faulkner said: "You saved my life. My little girl saw me come home, and that just means everything. So I thank you from the bottom of my heart. There's really nothing more to say other than that, really.
After being told that he will help a lot of people by sharing his story, Faulkner said: "I hope so. The fact that I'm here able to do it, again, it just means everything. You gave me everything back, so whatever I can give to you guys in return is fine by me."
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."
"He was only four miles away, but miles equal minutes and he did not have many to spare," said Dr. Pahwa. "Mr. Faulkner is alive today because the stars aligned. He had an outstanding emergency care team, he was close to a world-class heart center, and he was quick to recognize he needed help."
Earlier last week, Faulkner described his medical emergency in a statement, writing: "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.
"From what I've been told by my surgeon, people with this don't usually make it to the hospital alive," he added. "Five parts of my chest were replaced with mechanical components. I'm literally made of metal now.
"The amazing Heart & Lung Center was 4 miles away from the gig site — if it had been further away ... We can always drive ourselves crazy with these things, but I'm still alive thankfully. Whatever the circumstances, when watching that footage, the truth is, knowing what I know now, I see a dying man," the 41-year-old said in his statement.
Last month, JUDAS PRIEST postponed the remainder of the U.S. dates on its rescheduled 50th anniversary tour, dubbed "50 Heavy Metal Years". The trek kicked off on September 8 in Reading, Pennsylvania and was slated to run through October before concluding on November 5 in Hamilton, Ontario.
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.