Jul 152013

This isn’t a full-blown edition of THAT’S METAL!, because I didn’t get my butt in a high enough gear to do one this week. It’s just one item that I found via a link from our buddy Phro, and it’s so fuckin’ cool that I decided to go with it now instead of adding it to the pile of other items from which the next full edition will be assembled. (And for any newcomers, this series is about photos, videos, and news items that I think are metal even if they’re not music.)

This is a story about Justin Vigile, the drummer for a Philadelphia metal band named Extractus, and about the doctor (Hartzell Schaff) who gave him back his life. There are other messages in this story, too, but you can draw your own conclusions about those. I just want to tell you what happened.

The facts are based on a May 14 story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune by Jon Tevlin. It begins with these sentences:

“When a Mayo Clinic surgeon showed a short film featuring the drummer of the heavy metal band Extractus at the Minneapolis Convention Center last week, he probably wasn’t hitting the band’s target audience. They were suit-clad doctors, in town for the annual convention of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery. They seemed pretty button-down for the drummer’s exuberant style, but they were impressed nonetheless. That’s because the drummer, 22-year-old Justin Vigile, had been bedridden and dying with end-stage heart disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy [HCM], or thickening of the heart muscle, just months before the video was shot.

The story goes on to explain that Justin was diagnosed with HCM at age 15, and despite excellent medical care in Philadelphia he went downhill.  A former football player, he had to discontinue sports and he had a defibrillator installed in case his heart stopped. During one Extractus set he became ill and vomited, and during another show his defibrillator activated. By the time his mother found Dr. Schaff, he was unable to walk or drive.

Dr. Schaff is a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis. He developed a surgical process called apical myectomy, which involves cutting out some of the thickened muscle to reshape the heart and improve its function. According to Jon Tevlin’s article, the operation has been done only about 50 to 60 times in the United States, almost exclusively by Dr. Schaff. In Justin’s case, it appears to have been amazingly successful:

“Within a few months of the surgery, Vigile and his band played at the Trocadero in Philadelphia. He now goes to the gym six days a week and has put on 30 pounds of muscle.’Whatever [Schaff] did in there [said Justin], I’m better now than at any point of my life.”

“Everybody likes to say I’m a miracle,” said Vigile. “But I tell them it’s science, man. I’m alive because of science, years and years of hard science, and somebody’s got to pay for that.”

And that takes us to the video Dr. Schaff showed to his fellow docs at the American Association of Thoracic Surgery. He played the video as part of his farewell speech as the Association’s outgoing president, and he did it in an effort “to highlight the importance of the unforeseen benefits of research, sometimes realized decades later.”

In particular, Schaff used Justin’s case as an example of the kind of benefits produced by research funded by the National Institutes of Health (including research at the Mayo Clinic) — research that has been damaged by cuts in federal funding caused by the so-called “sequestration” that occurred earlier this year due to Congress’ inability to agree on a budget.

Here’s the clip of what Dr. Schaff said and did at the Minneapolis Convention Center in May (and prepare to have your ears blasted at the very end of the clip). After that, I’ve got a little Extractus music for your enjoyment (yeah, I’m cheating a bit by including some music, but I know after reading this story you’re going to want to hear some).

And by the way, Extractus won a local battle of the bands for the right to play at Mayhem Fest on July 19 in Camden, NJ. Congrats dudes.


  8 Responses to ““THAT’S METAL” – BUT IT’S NOT MUSIC (NO. 77.5)”

  1. Really cool story. I’m happy to see that it went so well for them. Hooray medicine, and thanks for the combination of inspiration and brutality that monday morning requires.

  2. what a great story, this column never disappoints! it’s become routine for my wife and i to read That’s-Metal together after several occasions of me repeatedly interrupting her reading to show her pictures and videos 🙂

    • Thank you man, as always. Cool that your wife enjoys these things, too. It’s about the only thing we do around here that I can get my wife to look at. 🙂

  3. As a scientist myself, I fully approve of this message. And if this keeps up, I can read NCS at work and not even have to come up with arcane excuses about it 😉

  4. Thank you so much for the kind comments! I am honored and humbled that my story serves as an inspiration. That is the goal and why we are trying to spread the word! Next stop is Mayhem Festival in Camden!!

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