JUDAS PRIEST's RICHIE FAULKNER reflects on his recovery following his life-saving heart surgery: 'I got another chance'
JUDAS PRIEST guitarist Richie Faulkner has once again opened up about the life-saving surgery he underwent more than a year and a half 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.
Asked in a new interview with Ruben Mosqueda of We Go To 11 what his health has been like in recent months, Richie said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “The health’s great. I had to go in again last August and be opened up again, and they had to fix a couple of problems. But ever since then, I’ve been okay, really. Some people have said — like my other half, for example… I went down in September (of 2021), I think it was, and I was back out on the road in March (of 2022). I went down under the knife again in August (of 2022), and we had two months off and I was back out on the road again. Some people might say it’s a bit too soon. But the touring and the record — we’ve been writing the PRIEST record and the ELEGANT WEAPONS record — and everything that comes along with interviews and artwork and photos and video shoots and stuff, all the stuff that comes along with that, it serves as a focus for me. You never know what’s around the corner, so if you’ve got something to say and stuff to do, do it. ‘Cause in my case, it could have been all over that day. So I got another chance. So all of this stuff kind of serves as a focus and a motivator to get it done and do it to the best of your ability and push on.”
Faulkner went on to say that he chose to stay busy while recovering from his health setback rather than take an extended time off from the road or the recording studio.
“People have different reactions to that kind of event,” he said. “Some people are out of action for a couple of years. But I don’t know — I was lucky, really. I’m relatively healthy. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink too much, anything like that. I was relatively young, so I was able to bounce back. And as soon as I could, I put a guitar back in my hands and started to play again. And I called management and said, ‘I wanna get back with the record and finish the record.’ It just served, as I said, as a motivating force to get back on the guitar or get creating or get a record out or whatever it may be, just to push forward.”
Last December, Faulkner was asked in an interview with Mexico’s El Cuartel Del Metal what it has been like being back on the road after his operation. Richie said: I’ve had a great support system, both at home and on the road as well. PRIEST and our crew have been really supportive. I’ve done everything that the doctors told me to do. I haven’t rushed anything. I’ve done everything that they told me I could do, if you know what I mean. And I’ve been fine. The last surgery I had was in August and I had enough time to heal properly and get back out on the road with this one. I’m on medications, so that’s all fine. So, yeah, I’m fine. As I said, I’ve had a great support system. I was very lucky. I was lucky just to get to the hospital in the first place, and I’m lucky to be here. There’s people that weren’t so lucky. It’s one of those conditions that some people don’t even get to the hospital. But I was lucky to get to the hospital. I was lucky to be worked on. And they saved my life. And I’m still lucky to be here playing metal for you guys.”
Faulkner, who returned to the road with his PRIEST bandmates in March 2022, also reflected on the onstage episode that resulted in him being rushed to the hospital, saying: “I remember it well. I remember up until the point when I was in the ambulance, I think. I think I went into shock and everything kind of went blurry from there. But I remember playing. I remember the moment when it was about halfway through ‘Painkiller’ and something happened in my chest and I thought, ‘That’s a bit strange. That doesn’t usually happen.’ And it was obviously a big pain in the chest. And I remember, as I was playing the song, I went kind of light-headed. And I’d never fainted before, but I felt like, ‘This is what it feels like. And I might faint soon.’ I remember I was conscious of moving away from the side of the stage, because I thought if I fainted and I fell off the stage — the stage was quite high, so I thought if I fell off, I could do myself some damage. And I remember all that.
“What happened was at the end of ‘Painkiller’, I lift the guitar up into the air — usually I do that,” he added. “And I think I tried to lift the guitar up, and I couldn’t — I didn’t have the strength because all the blood had gone; it was running out. It dissected, so all the blood was kind of doing different things. I didn’t have the energy to lift the guitar, and I knew something was terribly wrong. But, again, luckily, there was a medic on hand with the ambulance and they got me to the hospital in time and they were able to save me. But I remember up until the point. But I didn’t know what it was. I think if I would have known how dangerous it was, I would have gone straight off. But I didn’t know. So I carried on playing. I just didn’t know what it was, really.”
In September 2022, Faulkner revealed that he underwent a second heart surgery in early August. He later explained to “That Fuzzing Rock Show”: “They found something just before the 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.